Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/30/2008

Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/30/2008Notable among tonight’s news stories are several about the continuing unrest in Sweden among the “youths” of Malmö and Stockholm.

Thanks to Insubria, JD, KGS, ML, Nilk, no2liberals, Tuan Jim, VH, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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USA
“Restoring the Balance”: Insight Into Obama’s Middle East Policy?
Are Americans Safe From U.S. Mosques?
Defense Spending Would be Great Stimulus
Obama Policy Plan Inspires Jihadists
 
Canada
Ottawa Moves to Save Canadian From Execution
 
Europe and the EU
Citizenship Applicants Must Pass Exam in Icelandic
Finland: Cleaning, Sales Popular Jobs for Immigrants
Going Down the EU Tube: Brussels Videos Shunned
Lisbon Treaty Critics to Present Its Consequences in Czech Senate
Sweden: Migration Board Pays Off Pro-Israel Employee
Sweden: Burkini and Finance Crunch Add to Swedish Vocabulary
Sweden: More Unrest in Malmö Suburb
Switzerland Says Could Have Been ‘More Sensitive’ in Kadhafi Case
UK: Army of ‘Vigilante Villagers’ to Dish Out On-the-Spot Fines for Litter Louts
UK: Foreign Office Warns Holidaymakers Against Extramarital Sex in Muslim Countries
UK: Gym Teacher Fired … for Wearing Sneakers
UK: New Quota: 1 Woman Per Fire Engine
 
North Africa
Egypt: Crackdown on Violent Police
Egypt in Quandary as Gaza Raids Divide the Muslim World
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Cynthia McKinney Aboard Boat Headed for Gaza, Intercepted by Israeli Naval Force
Hamas Has Precipitated This Confrontation
Incoming European Union President: Israel is Right
Israeli Communist Party Goes to Support Hamas, PLO Factions in Gaza
Merkel Blames Hamas for Gaza Violence
Michael Ross: Jews Are News
 
Middle East
Egypt Mocks Iran, Hezbollah on Military Record
Hezbollah: Israel May Take This Opportunity to Attack Lebanon
Iran Hardliners Register Volunteers to Fight Israel
Jordan: Foreign Assistance Increased by 67% in 2008
Mideast:Gaza; Jordan King Abdullah Donates Blood for Gazans
Saudi Police Break Up Pro-Gaza Protest: Residents
Swede Detained by US Forces in Iraq
 
Russia
At Last, Stalin is Defeated by Russian Voters
Moscow’s ‘Constructive Separatism’ in ‘Near Abroad’ Backfires in Russia
The Sinister Resurrection of Stalin
 
South Asia
Indonesia: MUI Urges Muslims to Boycott U.S. Products
Malaysia: Mediators to Ease Tensions
OIC Concerned Over Pak Airspace Violation by India
Three Killed, 13 Troops Hurt in Thai South — Police
 
Far East
Japan Paid Y200 Million for Release of University Student Kidnapped in Iran
Johnny Neihu’s News Watch: a Heritage of Non-Denial Denial
Philippines: Police on Alert for Terror Attacks
Why Al Qaeda Isn’t Gaining a Foothold in Cambodia
 
Australia — Pacific
The Battle of Broken Hill: the First Islamic Terrorist Attack on Australian Soil, 1915
Topless Ban to Protect Muslims and Asians
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
British Missionaries in Gambia Jailed for One Year With Hard Labour for Sedition
Piracy: Two Turkish Ships Find Route to Freedom
 
Immigration
Illegal Baby Boom Hits Big Easy
Immigration: Malta, 140 Migrants Rescued at Sea
Immigration: Spain; Voluntary Re-Entry Plan Fails
Immigration: On Youtube a Story From an Italian Point of View
Immigration: First Repatriations From Lampedusa to Egypt
 
Culture Wars
Che Guevara: First He Took Havana, Now He’s Conquered Hollywood
Firefighters Ordered Into ‘Gay’ Parade Back in Court
Voted for Prop 8? You’re Fired
Why is ‘Sexual Identity’ Any of the Government’s Business?
 
General
Natural Disasters ‘Killed Over 220,000’ in ‘08

USA

“Restoring the Balance”: Insight Into Obama’s Middle East Policy?

Unsurprisingly, Bush’s critics excoriate his Middle East record. Fine, but now that they are almost in the driver’s seat; exactly how do they intend to fix America’s Middle East policy?

One preview is on display in Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President, a major study issued jointly by two liberal lions, the Brookings Institution (founded 1916) and the Council on Foreign Relations (founded 1921). The culmination of an 18-month effort, Restoring the Balance involved 15 scholars, 2 co-editors (Richard Haass and Martin Indyk), a retreat at a Rockefeller conference center, multiple fact-finding trips, and a small army of organizers and managers.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Are Americans Safe From U.S. Mosques?

Middle East experts measure threat level of Shariah law

When the five Muslims convicted this month of plotting to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix were charged, the New Jersey mosque where four of the men worshipped reacted to negative publicity by holding an “emergency town hall meeting” to calm neighbors and persuade Americans that Islam poses no threat.

But having investigated the Islamic Center of South Jersey one year ago, Middle East expert and former Air Force special agent Dave Gaubatz insists not only is the mosque a threat to national security, it represents a pattern that has prompted him to launch a massive project to systematically classify every known mosque in the U.S.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Defense Spending Would be Great Stimulus

The Department of Defense is preparing budget cuts in response to the decline in national income. The DOD budgeteers and their counterparts in the White House Office of Management and Budget apparently reason that a smaller GDP requires belt-tightening by everyone.

That logic is exactly backwards. As President-elect Barack Obama and his economic advisers recognize, countering a deep economic recession requires an increase in government spending to offset the sharp decline in consumer outlays and business investment that is now under way. Without that rise in government spending, the economic downturn would be deeper and longer. Although tax cuts for individuals and businesses can help, government spending will have to do the heavy lifting. That’s why the Obama team will propose a package of about $300 billion a year in additional federal government outlays and grants to states and local governments.

A temporary rise in DOD spending on supplies, equipment and manpower should be a significant part of that increase in overall government outlays. The same applies to the Department of Homeland Security, to the FBI, and to other parts of the national intelligence community.

The increase in government spending needs to be a short-term surge with greater outlays in 2009 and 2010 but then tailing off sharply in 2011 when the economy should be almost back to its prerecession level of activity. Buying military supplies and equipment, including a variety of off-the-shelf dual use items, can easily fit this surge pattern.

For the military, the increased spending will require an expanded supplemental budget for 2009 and an increased budget for 2010. A 10% increase in defense outlays for procurement and for research would contribute about $20 billion a year to the overall stimulus budget. A 5% rise in spending on operations and maintenance would add an additional $10 billion. That spending could create about 300,000 additional jobs. And raising the military’s annual recruitment goal by 15% would provide jobs for an additional 30,000 young men and women in the first year…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Obama Policy Plan Inspires Jihadists

The Salafi jihadist movement, a more radicalized version of Salafism followed by such militant groups as al-Qaida, is on the rise in the Middle East as the new Obama administration prepares to take office, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

(…)

And with the recent flareup in the Gaza Strip, Salafi jihadists are gaining support among followers of the Hamas which until recently resisted them. As radical as the Hamas appears to be, the Salafi jihadists are looked upon as even more so.

“Compared to us, they are Islamism lite,” Abu Mustafa said. He heads the Salafi jihadist movement in the Gaza Strip. “Hamas represents an American style of Islam. They have tried to curry favor.

“Hamas is like a block of ice in the sun,” he added. “Every minute they get smaller — and we get larger.”

(…)

Indeed, there are indications that the Salafi jihadists may have been involved in instigating the most recent outbreak of violence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, breaking an unofficial truce between the governing Hamas and Israel.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Canada

Ottawa Moves to Save Canadian From Execution

The Harper government has ramped up direct political contacts with Saudi Arabia in an effort to save the life of a Canadian sentenced to death, even as the condemned man’s younger brother appears one step closer to a similar fate.

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed to The Globe and Mail that parliamentary secretary Deepak Obhrai met with senior Saudi officials — including the Minister of Justice — during a trip to Saudi Arabia from Dec. 20 to 23 to discuss the case of Mohamed Kohail, 23, and his 17-year-old brother Sultan.

The Kohails are accused of murder in the case of Munzer al-Haraki, a 19-year-old Syrian student who was killed in a schoolyard brawl in Jeddah nearly two years ago.

Mohamed Kohail has been sentenced to beheading, and has lost an appeal to have his conviction overturned. His sentence has been sent to the Supreme Judicial Council and the King for final approval.

Earlier this week, prosecutors moved to have Sultan Kohail’s case heard by the same panel of judges who sentenced his brother to death.

Despite expressing “concerns” over the case for some time, Ottawa has so far been unable to secure clemency for the two accused. Mr. Obhrai’s trip is the latest in Canada’s efforts.

Mr. Obhrai met with the Kohail family and “assured them that Canada will continue to pursue all avenues to assist Mohammed and Sultan,” DFAIT spokeswoman Lisa Monette said, adding that Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon also raised the case in a phone call with his Saudi counterpart earlier this month, and that the embassy in Riyadh sent a diplomatic note to Saudi authorities.

“Our ambassador in Saudi Arabia is fully engaged, as are senior DFAIT officials in Ottawa. Consular officials have been actively providing assistance and support and remain in regular contact with the Kohail family and their legal counsel,” Ms. Monette said.

But it is unclear whether any of these efforts have achieved any result. Previously, the Kohail family had rejected calls from the victim’s family for the two brothers to admit their guilt, saying Mohamed and Sultan are not responsible for the death — the victim’s family has angrily denounced Canadian interference in the case and has said they will not entertain any possibility of forgiveness until the two accused admit their guilt.

However, this week the Kohails told The Globe and Mail they are willing to consider any of the al-Harakis’ demands, including the payment of blood money, and even a public apology.

Liberal MP Dan McTeague, who has worked closely with the Kohail family on the case, said time is running out for Ottawa to make progress on the file. “[Mohamed] Kohail was not afforded basic legal rights at his initial trial. In fact, even the appeal court recommended that the trial court hear from Mohamed’s witnesses and for it to view the case as self-defence, not murder,” Mr. McTeague said in a statement last week. “However, the trial court refused to do so and the appeal court gave up and upheld the verdict and passed the case on to the Supreme Judicial Council.

“The Council is not likely to review the case and merely support the death sentence within the next 30 days.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Citizenship Applicants Must Pass Exam in Icelandic

As of January 1, 2009, applicants for the Icelandic citizenship must have passed an examination in the Icelandic language in order for their applications to be considered, according to new regulations established by the Ministry of Justice.

The Course Assessment Institute (Námsmatsstofnun) or a comparable institute will be responsible for preparing and executing the examinations which will take place at least twice a year, mbl.is reports.

The old Icelandic citizenship regulations will still apply to everyone who submit their application forms and the appropriate supporting documents to the Ministry of Justice by January 1, 2009, and they will not have to pass an examination in the Icelandic language.

According to the new regulations, all applicants must undergo an examination recognized by the Ministry of Justice, regardless of whether they have studied Icelandic and passed similar tests on earlier occasions.

The purpose with the new ministry-approved examination is to prove that applicants for the Icelandic citizenship have sufficient language skills to manage daily life in Iceland, be able to engage in basic conversations and follow the main news events.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Finland: Cleaning, Sales Popular Jobs for Immigrants

A public transport driver is the third most common profession for immigrants, according to the statistics agency’s fresh report on data collected in 2006. Other common jobs for foreigners include working in the construction or restaurant industries.

In 2006, some 59,000 foreigners were employed in Finland and immigrants made up about 2.5 percent of the workforce.

A Growing Population

Statistics Finland also reports that Finland’s population is growing rapidly, thanks largely to immigration.

Currently some 5,325,600 people reside in Finland. The agency predicts the population will have grown by 0.5 percent, or by 25,100 people, in 2008. That’s the biggest rise in 16 years.

The increase is largely explained by a rise in immigration. Some 28,100 people moved to Finland in 2008. That’s the largest number of immigrants to Finland since the country gained independence in 1917. The record was last broken in 2007 when 26,700 people moved to Finland. After subtracting the number of people who moved away, Finland witnessed an overall gain of 14,500 new residents who moved here.

Furthermore around 59,500 children were born in 2008. That is the highest number of newborns in 12 years, and 800 more than in 2007. Meanwhile around 48,900 people died in 2008.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Going Down the EU Tube: Brussels Videos Shunned

The European Union’s answer to YouTube, the internet video sharing phenomenon, has backfired, with audiences shunning many of the clips intended to promote pet subjects in Brussels.

Eighteen months on from the creation of EU Tube many of the videos posted on the website have attracted only a few dozen viewers.

An EU Tube video entitled Controlling the Use of Chemicals in Europe has been watched 56 times. Another film, Better Rights for Temporary Workers, has attracted 70.

EU Tube’s attempts to adopt street language have also misfired, with ventures such as a three-minute “euro-rap”, which urges young viewers “you gotta be a part of” a united Europe.

“Get on our team, you know what I mean,” the rapper sings, surrounded by teenagers brandishing the EU flag. “It’s the return of the blue. See I’m going to move across from Germany to Paris, oui. We get united and take a stand in solidarity. I speak in all ‘hoods.”

One visitor, Opaz, writes: “It’s like Nazi Hitler Youth propaganda with aggressive music. Be a part of what? The destruction of our nations, homelands and security so that the rich can own and control us. Overlords of EU go to hell!”

EU Tube also displays a bizarre 30-second animation featuring an amorous chess piece and a condom to illustrate safe sex. “Chess love — safe sex is a game for two,” the video concludes.

The channel was perhaps seeking to emulate the success of one of its most popular videos: a three-minute series of clips of people having sex, ending with the words “Let’s come together”. The video, intended to promote the Brussels film subsidy, received more than 7.1m hits.

EU Tube is funded out of a €207m (£196m) communication budget from Brussels. So far the channel has attracted 7,391 subscribers. The community has a population of 500m.

The website is one of dozens of examples of EU marketing documented in a 160-page dossier compiled by Open Europe, the eurosceptic think tank.

The report claims the EU is spending €2.4 billion a year on lobbying, press officers, advertising and other types of “propaganda” including scholarships. It also says the EU sends out more than 1m promotional brochures, balloons and pens each year.

Other schemes funded by the taxpayer included:

— An event for young people on the Isle of Wight, justified on the grounds that students there might have below-average contact with their European peers: “This can make them seem insular and antiEuropean.”

— A film featuring young people waving EU flags to the tune of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in support of the Young European Federalists.

— Funding of €7m to enhance public awareness of the common agricultural policy.

Lorraine Mullally, director of Open Europe, said: “Taxpayers should not be footing the bill for vain PR exercises to make us love the European Union.”

A spokesman for the European commission in London said: “This is not propaganda, we are simply providing information.” He added that the commission “did not recognise” the €2.4 billion figure.

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]


Lisbon Treaty Critics to Present Its Consequences in Czech Senate

Prague — Foreign critics of the Lisbon treaty plan to present what they believe would be the treaty adoption’s consequences at a seminar in the Czech Senate in mid-January, before the Czech parliament takes vote on the document.

Their visit to the Czech Republic is meant as a counterweight to the December mission of MEPs to Prague.

The seminar is to focus on the position of democracy in the EU before and after a possible ratification of the Lisbon treaty, and also on the legitimacy of the treaty’s ratification in view of the Irish referendum’s “no” to the treaty this June.

According to www.euserver.cz, participants in the seminar also want to discuss the book “Lisbon treaty and the EU: even less democracy in the EU,” completed by experts from the German non-profit organisation Mehr Demokratie.

The seminar is to be attended by Mehr Demokratie executive director Roman Huber, British deputy and former minister David Heathcoat-Amory and former MEPs Patricia McKenna, from Ireland, and Jens-Peter Bonde, from Denmark.

The seminar will be held under the aegis of Miroslav Skaloud, deputy head of the Czech Civic Democrat (ODS) group of senators and Jaroslav Kubera (ODS), head of the Czech Senate constitutional and legal committee.

It is known that part of the Czech senior ruling ODS are Eurosceptics opposed to the Lisbon treaty.

Kubera is among those who openly say they will not support the treaty in the upper house’s vote. He says the treaty weakens small countries’ position in the EU.

The Senate and the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, might each take vote on the treaty in February.

If approved, the treaty would go to President Vaclav Klaus, its staunch critic, for signing.

The Czech Republic, which will take up the six-month rotating EU presidency on January 1, 2009, is the only of the 27 EU states not to have taken a position on the Lisbon treaty as yet.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Migration Board Pays Off Pro-Israel Employee

Sweden’s Migration Board has elected to pay over a million kronor in compensation to a demoted employee who maintained a pro-Israeli blog instead of following a court order to reinstate him.

A ruling handed down by the district court in Mölndal in western Sweden on November 11th found in favour of 51-year-old employee Lennart Eriksson. The court ruled that the demotion was tantamount to having Eriksson fired without cause, and therefore violated Swedish employment law.

Eriksson said at the time that he was looking forward to getting back to work.

But in a reply to Ericsson’s lawyers dated December 19th the Migration Board has stated that it does not intend to follow the court order and will instead pay 1,203,200 kronor ($155,000) in compensation to Ericsson — the equivalent of 32 months salary. The board writes that the sum is in accordance with Swedish employment law.

“With this payment all dealings between the Migration Board and Eriksson will be settled. The Migration Board rejects all other demands made to date or in the future.”


The sum will be paid to Eriksson on January 12th 2009.

Lennart Eriksson has responded on his blog by arguing that he is not interested in the board’s “Judas money” and instead wants the board to follow the court ruling and reinstate him.

“I want the Migration Board to be a democratic authority. An authority where the ‘justice-seeking general public’ can expect fair and just treatment.”

The case dates back to February when Eriksson decided to sue his employer when he returned from a year’s sabbatical to find that he had been demoted from his job as the head of an asylum assessment unit, a position he had held for six years.

Ericsson was from the outset suspicious of the grounds on which the Migration Board had justified the move, believing that it had to do with a new supervisor’s disapproval of a pro-Israeli blog Eriksson maintains in his spare time.

“I want to defend freedom and democracy. I try to be humble and just. Therefore I must — as every good democrat must — defend Israel,” Eriksson wrote on his blog Sapere aude!

The case sparked more controversy when Migration Board lawyer Staffan Opitz criticized Eriksson during the trial for writing in his blog that Hamas-founder Ahmed Yassin was a terrorist, rather than a “Palestinian freedom fighter”, despite the fact that the Swedish government considered Hamas a terrorist organization.

“It’s quite remarkable, and that probably gets to the heart of matter. If the Migration Board has managers that believe that, I can understand that they don’t like me,” Eriksson said.


The court left aside the question of whether the move to demote him constituted a violation of his freedom of speech, addressing only whether the board was right to do so according to employment law.

The Local tried without success to contact the Migration Board for a comment on the compensation payment.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Dramatic Rise in Reports of Child Abuse

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Anyone actually seen data on the breakdown of this report — regions, cities, etc?]

The number of cases of child abuse reported to the police has increased dramatically over the past year, new statistics from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) show.

1,738 cases of the abuse of children under six-years-of-age were reported to the police between January to November 2008, a 24 percent increase on the corresponding period of last year, according to a report in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

According to Felipe Estrada at Brå the figures do not however indicate that child abuse is on the rise in Sweden but do indicate that there is greater transparency.

“More cases are reported today than previously.”

Astrid Lindgren’s Children’s Hospital in Solna, outside of Stockholm, is working to develop concrete guidelines to help staff and ensure that more cases of child abuse are detected.

Around 150 children per day are admitted to the accident and emergency ward at the hospital and suspicions of child abuse are an everyday occurrence.

“This is often very complicated. The children are too small to tell and their parents don’t tell the truth,” said Anna-Carin Magnussen of the Mio group which works with the issue at the hospital to Dagens Nyheter.

Björn Tingberg at the hospital would like to see a more active approach.

“Staff traditionally trust the parents description of what has happened. They are the voice of their children and make it very hard to discover cases of abuse. There is also a significant fear, we are incredibly reticent and report all too seldom.”

The Mio group is currently working with an information project entitled “shaken baby” — a syndrome which has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years.

Tingberg observes such abuse is often a case of ignorance or frustration among parents who don’t realise how little is needed to seriously injure their baby.

Despite the increase in reports of child abuse, death remains a very rare occurrence in Sweden, with seven cases per year, and is almost never connected to a history of abuse.

“It is often in cases where parents commit suicide and at the same time take their children with them, there is often a conflict between the parents or a mental illness,” according to the criminologist Mikael Rying.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Police in Firing Line as Turbulence Continues

Swedish police experienced the latest in a series of busy nights on Sunday as gangs of youths created disturbances in the suburbs of Stockholm and Malmö.

A 19-year-old man has been detained in Stockholm after a police officer was injured while police conducted a search on a group of young people in the Vårby Gård suburb. The exact cause or extent of the officer’s injuries is not yet known.

The group was searched after an evening spent setting off fireworks and throwing car tyres onto subway tracks in the locality.

“Traffic had to be stopped occasionally,” said police spokesman Anders Lantz, who added that the weekend had been marked by disturbances in the Vårby, Alby, Fittja and Norsborg suburbs. Police said they planned to increase their presence in the area on Monday evening.

The Malmö suburb of Oxie has also experience turbulence in recent nights, with gangs of youths throwing stones and aiming fireworks at windows and balconies. A police vehicle also had its front window broken

“It continued on Sunday night. When we were out there on a case someone threw a rock at the windscreen and smashed it,” police spokesman Pete Martin told Skånska Dagbladet.

Malmö police said the trouble was sparked by a group of around forty young people.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Burkini and Finance Crunch Add to Swedish Vocabulary

[Comment from Tuan Jim: picture included at link]

The global finance collapse in the autumn and swimwear for Muslim women are among the phenomena of 2008 that have thrown up a slew of new words proposed for inclusion in the vocabulary of the Swedish language.

The Language Council of Sweden (Språkrådet) has reported that it has received almost 2,000 proposals for its list of new words.

The new words being considered for 2008 include the burkini — a bathing suit with long arms and legs; klimatism — which describes a fear of climate change that has reached fanatical, religious proportions, and blåstråle — a literal Swedish translation of the English blu-ray.

The council receives proposals from a range of sources. Many of its words come from staff commissioned to scour the newspapers and identify new words developed by journalists to describe new phenomena.

One of the major influential events of the year has been the financial turbulence that intensified in the beginning of the autumn.

In English, recent economic developments have been afforded various epithets such as “financial crunch”, “financial collapse” and “financial meltdown” and so likewise in the Swedish language with finanssmälta — describing a total breakdown of the economy, becoming en vogue as 2008 comes to a close.

The council also receives a wealth of suggestions from members of the general public who send in their proposals for new words and phrases.

Some of these in 2008 include Al Gore-vår — to describe the early springs experienced in Sweden in recent years; Frugalista — someone who buys their clothes at second hand and charity shops, and hemester — a translation of the English staycation, describing a holiday spent at home.

The Language Council of Sweden is the “official language cultivation body of Sweden” and has been commissioned by parliament to care for and develop the Swedish language.

Aside from compiling lists of new Swedish words and phrases the council publishes handbooks, gives lectures and offers linguistic guidance within the Swedish language and the other languages spoken in Sweden.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: More Unrest in Malmö Suburb

A number of disturbances broke out in a suburb of Malmö on Monday night. Four youths were arrested as police battled to impose order.

The unrest began in Oxie, a suburb south-west of central Malmö, when a skip began burning soon after 7.30pm on Monday evening. Police confirmed that security guards and passers-by were shot at with fireworks and several more fires were started.

The Christmas tree on the main square in Oxie was one of the targets and local resident Bo Persson expressed concern over recent developments.

“It has been awful lately. They should really ban fireworks. It is just a small number that are behind this carry on and ruin it for us all,” he said to local newspaper Sydsvenskan.

Ten police units were sent to the area during the evening and by 11pm four young men had been arrested for public order offences.

Trouble first flared up in Oxie on December 8th. Since then police and emergency services have been sent to the area on a round 20 occasions.

On Sunday a police car had its windows broken, and there have been several reports of arson and fireworks being shot towards balconies and people.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Demo in Stockholm Over Gaza Bombings

Hundreds of demonstrators marched through the Swedish capital on Monday to protest against Israeli air attacks on the Gaza Strip, setting an Israeli flag alight and chanting “Israel, murderer.”

Organizers said some 1,000 people turned out while police said around 500 had gathered in Sergels Torg, one of Stockholm’s main squares, before marching to the Israeli embassy.

The demonstrators, mainly Muslim immigrants to Sweden, waved banners and shouted “Close the embassy,” “Gaza solidarity,” and “Israel, murderer,” and set fire to an Israeli flag painted with a swastika.

“Enough blood! We’ve seen enough,” Omar Mustafa, an organizer with the Swedish Islamic Association, told AFP.
[Comment from Tuan Jim: see also photo for demo]

“We don’t see any reaction from the rest of the world while there is a massacre going on,” he added.

The demonstration, which began at 1:30 pm (1230 GMT) wrapped up peacefully after a few hours.

Other protest marches were planned later on Monday in Gothenburg, as well as in several towns and cities in neighbouring Norway and Finland.

Israel on Monday bombed Gaza for a third day in an “all-out war” on Hamas, as tanks massed on the border and the Islamists fired deadly rockets in retaliation for the air raid attacks that have killed at least 318 people.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Switzerland Says Could Have Been ‘More Sensitive’ in Kadhafi Case

GENEVA (AFP) — Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday said authorities acted within international law in the arrest of Moamer Kadhafi’s son, but admitted that police could have acted in a “more sensitive” manner.

Geneva local police “should have applied international practises in a more nuanced and sensitive manner,” a spokeswoman from the Foreign Ministry told Swiss newswire ATS.

Hannibal Kadhafi and his wife were arrested after two of their domestic staff claimed they had abused them. Hannibal Kadhafi was eventually released and the complaint was dropped.

Bern’s spokeswoman stressed that authorities did not flout international law in the handling of the case.

“The Swiss and Geneva authorities applied the dispositions of the Vienna Convention” on diplomatic relations that were in conformity with international practises, she said.

The case strained relations between Tripoli and Bern, with Libya cancelling deliveries of oil in October, withdrawing an estimated seven billion dollars ( billion euros) from Swiss banks, and stopping all areas of cooperation between the two countries.

Libya’s Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs on Thursday also said Tripoli wants not only an apology from Swiss authorities but also the punishment of those who arrested Kadhafi.

“The Swiss authorities in the first days following the arrest already said they are ready to apologise,” said Abdulati Ibrahim al-Obidi.

“But what we want first is that justice is done and that the people responsible are punished,” Obidi told a news conference in Tripoli.

In a statement distributed at the press conference, the Libyan authorities demanded that the Swiss government recognise that “the treatment meted out to the Libyan diplomat (Hannibal) and his family was unjustified” and against the laws of Switzerland.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


UK: Army of ‘Vigilante Villagers’ to Dish Out On-the-Spot Fines for Litter Louts

Villages are being encouraged to use unpaid volunteers to patrol the streets and hand out on-the-spot fines to litterbugs.

The uniformed litter police would be able to punish anyone who throws away so much as a sweet wrapper or a cigarette end with an £80 fine.

After a day’s training to teach them how to collect evidence to be used in court, they would have the right to demand that those they identify as offenders hand over their names and addresses.

Athough they will not have the power to arrest those who fail to do so, anyone who declines to pay faces prosecution in a magistrates’ court.

But critics have voiced fears the scheme will provoke angry confrontations and lead to the spread of ‘village vigilantes’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Calls for Automatic Car Speed Limiters

Fitting speed-limiting devices in cars could prevent up to 29 per cent of injuries from road accidents, a report by a Government advisory body said today.

The Commission for Integrated Transport (CfIT) said there would be real benefits in the voluntary introduction of intelligent speed adaptation (ISA).

This is a driver-assistance system that brings local speed-limit information into the vehicle via satellite positioning technology and reduces its speed if necessary.

But the devices have been slammed by charity Safe Speed because they lull drivers into a “zombie mode”.

Claire Armstrong said truck drivers using speed-limited devices had been shown to stop paying attention to the road and “go into fatigue mode or zombie mode.”

She told the BBC: “That makes it highly dangerous in those scenarios. So you’ve taken the responsibility away from the driver and that is not good for road safety.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Foreign Office Warns Holidaymakers Against Extramarital Sex in Muslim Countries

Holidaymakers to the United Arab Emirates have been told not to have sex outside marriage or kiss in public in strong government warnings over how to behave in Muslim countries.

The advice, which goes further than the traditional admonition for women to dress modestly, follows allegations of drunken sex romps. The Foreign Office is worried that increasing numbers of tourists will get into trouble abroad as they the travel to less traditional holiday destinations and fall foul of local laws and customs.

The number of Britons going to Egypt this year increased by 38% and to Turkey by 32% and similar rises are expected in 2009 as more Britons look outside the eurozone to make their holiday money go further. Warnings about modesty are also given to those planning to visit the Kenya coast and rural areas of Malaysia .

Travellers to several countries are warned about their strong anti-drug laws as well as no-tolerance attitudes towards excessive drinking. The government says embassies regularly deal with Britons who have failed to take enough money, telling holidaymakers to ensure they have back-up emergency funds and sufficient insurance.

The Foreign Office already supports 75,000 Britons in difficulties abroad each year, from visiting those in hospital or arrested to rescuing them from forced marriage, in addition to dealing with 3 million consular inquiries. Julian Braithwaite, director of consular services, said: “ If people don’t research their destinations before they go , it could do more than spoil their holiday. What’s normal in reports in Spain or Greece are not necessarily acceptable in Turkey or Egypt.”

The warning come in the 2009 Travel Trends Report, written with travel association Abta, which tries to be positive about holidays next year. “Many experts believe travel lags about six months behind the rest of the economy. Holidays are one of the last things consumers will cut when it comes to discretionary spend but no one in the travel industry is under any illusion that 2009 is going to be anything other than challenging.”

The report, an addition to the Foreign Office’s Know Before You Go campaign, carries results of a poll 0f more than 2,100 adults commissioned from YouGov, which suggests about one in five fears they or their partner will lose their jobs before their next holiday and a similar proportion feel going abroad is a luxury they might not be able to afford next year. Nearly one in eight are not planning a holiday at all, and one in nine will only holiday in the UK. More than half all those questioned in November thought the pound was going to get even weaker — a belief that has already been confirmed.

Although European favourites such as France and Spain will continue to be most popular with tourists even in a recession and with the strong euro, Mexico, Croatia, Israel, the Caribbean , Australia and Poland are expected to be other holiday hotspots. Iceland is seen as increasingly attractive following its own financial crisis. with a beer now the equivalent of about £2.50 instead of £7 and the cost of a meal out tumbling to a third of what it was.

The report is upbeat about the US remaining popular, with a combination of the Obama Effect and the US’s own dire economic straits could mean it remains a significant destination. The plummeting pound is bound to have “a slight impact” on demand, it concedes , but adds that the last time there had been a two-dollar exchange rate was 1981, and that prices and the cost of living in the US is beginning to fall too An Obama boom may also help Kenya’s tourist numbers, because of the next US president’s family connections.

Around 50,000 couples are thought to have got married abroad this year, and the exotic locations, warmer climate and economy (nuptials abroad cost an average £6,000 instead of the £15-20,000 in Britain), are likely to see this figure rise. Another rising trend will be “posh camping” in teepees or semi-permanent structures with built-in bathrooms.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


UK: Gym Teacher Fired … for Wearing Sneakers

‘I have suddenly been sacked for something I have always worn’

A PE teacher who has worn a tracksuit and trainers to school for 30 years has been sacked after the acting headteacher decided he was flouting the dress code.

Adrian Swain, 56, was dismissed a week before Christmas because he refused to follow a ban on trainers.

The school’s local education authority has backed the sacking — claiming teachers ‘should not wear clothing children are not allowed to wear themselves’.

Now fellow teachers at the comprehensive where Mr Swain has taught for 17 years are threatening to strike if he is not reinstated.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Husband Died Because of Six Hour Delay in [Emergency]

Stewart Fleming, 37, arrived at his local hospital with his wife Sarah clutching an urgent note from his doctor saying he must be treated immediately.

But instead of being sent to the head of the queue, Mr Fleming had to sit and wait in agony as a virus ravaged his body, causing his organs to fail.

In a radio interview, Mrs Fleming said her husband should have been treated sooner.

She said: ‘Why wait three hours for a triage when a doctor had already done it and put it in writing what was going on?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Ministry Blames Crowded Jails on Labour

Britain’s soaring prison population is being driven by government policies rather than crime levels, according to an internal Whitehall briefing document seen by the Observer

The paper, a presentation to ministers and civil servants drawn up by the Ministry of Justice, explains in detail how new measures introduced by Labour have driven the prison population to record levels.

The admission is likely to embarrass the government as it suggests the prisons crisis — which has forced the prison service to use court and police cells to house offenders — is largely one of ministers’ own making.

The paper acknowledges that successes in curbing reoffending rates, which have taken some pressure off prisons, have been all but wiped out by changes to the justice system. And it suggests further problems lie ahead with Britain’s prisons running out of cells, possibly as early as the new year.

Britain’s prison population stands at more than 83,000, just off its record high and close to full capacity. According to a graph in the briefing, the worst-case scenario could see it touch 86,000 early next year, suggesting there will not be enough room even if Operation Safeguard, the use of police cells, is reintroduced. The paper warns: “Capacity is likely to remain tight over the next 12 months and there is a possibility that Safeguard will be required again.”

The paper states: “Prison population increases are driven by changes to the criminal justice system more than changes in offender behaviour.” It acknowledges that this is the result of more and longer custodial sentences being handed down, more offences involving violence and drugs, and a greater use of recall to prison for prisoners who breach stringent rules governing their early release.

The admission that more people are being jailed at a time when crime is falling is likely to focus attention on the government’s overhaul of the justice system over the past decade.

During the last 10 years the government has introduced 55 criminal justice bills, creating over 3,000 new criminal offences — which experts say have fuelled the increased use of custody — and eliminated its successes in reducing reoffending.

“This document makes it absolutely clear that the government’s obsession with criminal justice bills, and the creation of more and more offences, is the prime cause of the rises in the prison population,” said Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, the probation officers’ union. “At the same time, this has been coupled with more severe sentencing. The situation is so grave that significant reductions in reoffending, achieved by staff working in probation and prisons, have been negated by the changes to the criminal justice system.”

Alleviating the crisis will be difficult, as the paper makes clear criminal behaviour is closely associated with entrenched socio-economic factors. It says that “82% of offenders … are at or below the writing level expected of an 11-year-old”. And, it adds, “around two-thirds of prisoners who do have a job” lose it while in custody.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


UK: New Quota: 1 Woman Per Fire Engine

Politically correct rule blasted as potential threat to safety

The Local Government Association (LGA) has said that at at least 15 per cent of those in operational roles should be female.

That means they will fill one of the five or six places for crew on each engine.

The LGA said an increased number of firewomen is necessary “to meet the needs of local people”.

But critics warned that political correctness was being put above the ability to save lives.

Susie Squire, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Introducing this sort of quota to the fire service is a big mistake.

“If ever there was a job that should be awarded on merit and physical fitness, it is that of a firefighter.

“This quota system will not only cost taxpayers money by introducing additional and unnecessary administration, but could risk the safety of all of us in the long run.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Crackdown on Violent Police

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, DECEMBER 29 — The firing of 1,164 policemen accused of violence against citizens and compulsory retirement for 280 others has been ordered by Egyptian Interior Minister Habib El Adley, as reported by the daily paper Al Ahram. General Hamed Rashed, ministerial assistant for judicial affairs, gave news of the decision to members of the Committee for Human Rights of the People’s Assembly (the Chamber). “The minister does not allow any laxity,” said Rashed, “for policemen who commit violations to the harm of citizens.” Another ministerial assistant, General Ahmed Shaker, reported that periodic inspections are carried out in police stations: on 24 December, 124 underwent inspection and no violation of any type was found. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Egypt in Quandary as Gaza Raids Divide the Muslim World

Israel’s ongoing bombing of the Gaza Strip has put Egypt in a delicate position. The government in Cairo has no interest in antagonizing Israel, but pressure is growing to allow Palestinians into the country. The attacks have split the Muslim world.

The demonstrators in front of Cairo’s Al Azhar University, one of Sunni Islam’s most esteemed institutes of learning, were screaming, the anger clearly etched on their faces. “Open the borders to Gaza! Break off relations with Israel!” they yelled on Monday. There were about 500 of them, mostly young, but some older ones as well wearing the full beards of devout Muslims. They faced off against police armed with batons and riot shields…

….The outrage has been fueled by the Arab and Iranian media. Some even reported that Mubarak was personally informed of the impending Gaza offensive by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and neglected to pass the information along to the Palestinians.

The accusation is one that seems out of place. Last week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned the Palestinians in a press conference “not to do anything that the enemies of peace … could exploit, such as the firing of rockets, which (gives) the Israeli side an excuse for aggressive actions against the Palestinian people.”…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Cynthia McKinney Aboard Boat Headed for Gaza, Intercepted by Israeli Naval Force

[Comment from Tuan Jim: For some reason I thought she was still a congresswoman and that this would be good grounds for impeachment and a treason trial — now it looks like the impeachment is out, but maybe we can still work in a treason charge.]

Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, unimpeded by the “closed military zone” imposed by Israel, was among 16 people aboard a medical supply boat that collided with an Israeli naval ship Tuesday as it tried to enter coastal waters around Gaza.

The yacht, owned by the U.S.-based Free Gaza Movement, was reportedly carrying 3.5 tons of medical supplies donated by Cyprus. A press release from the group claimed “several Israeli gunboats intercepted the Dignity she was heading on a mission of mercy to Gaza.” They said the Israeli military fired machine guns into the water in an attempt to stop the Dignity’s progress.

The boat, registered under the flag of Gibraltar and with an English captain, reportedly took on water and experienced engine problems, according to the group’s Web site. It also said the incident occurred 90 miles offshore in international water. The boat’s captain was given permission to dock in Lebanon, where it was regrouping to try again.

Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Reuters that an Israeli vessel and the 60-foot Free Gaza Movement boat did make “physical contact,” but only after the aid boat failed to respond to radio contact. He denied any gunfire had occurred, and he said no one was hurt in the incident. He told Reuters the Israeli ship escorted the damaged boat back to Cypriot territorial waters.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Hamas Has Precipitated This Confrontation

When Gazans contemplate the death and destruction caused by Israeli aircraft, they may conclude that their tiny, overcrowded coastal strip has been the latest victim of a Middle Eastern “perfect storm”.

Unlike corners of the globe afflicted by typhoons and hurricanes, the Middle East is blessed by good weather but plagued by recurring man-made disasters usually triggered by the lethal convergence of military and political interests.

Ever since Hamas militants seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority 18 months ago, a full-scale military confrontation with Israel had been inevitable.

Hamas is committed ideologically to the destruction of the Jewish state and its replacement with an Islamic alternative over the full territory of the British Mandate of Palestine.

This by itself should not necessarily lead to violence. Syria has been in a state of war with Israel for more than 60 years but their common border has been quiet for decades. It is the actions of Hamas that have precipitated the current crisis.

With the open support of Iran and Syria, the Islamic movement has smuggled arms into the strip and pioneered the use of homemade rockets to terrorise the quarter of a million Israelis living near Gaza. The latest target of Hamas rockets was Ashdod, Israel’s second-largest commercial port, 23 miles (35km) north of the Gaza Strip.

When Hamas’s six-month ceasefire expired a few days ago, there were fears that a new cycle of attack and reprisal would begin. From the perspective of the Israeli Government the ideal moment to strike was now. George W. Bush, who has supported Israel throughout his eight years in office, is still in power for three more weeks. Better to finish this operation before Barack Obama arrives at the White House promising to take a fresh look at Middle East peacemaking.

Israel’s domestic politics are also a factor. The ruling Kadima party and its Labour ally are lagging behind the right-wing opposition Likud party in the polls ahead of elections on February 10. Launching a big military operation is risky — as the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, learnt to his cost after the disastrous Lebanon war in 2006 — but a victory of any sort in Gaza could help the coalition to revive its electoral fortunes.

The big question now is whether Israel is ready to carry out its threat to send ground forces into Gaza, 31/2 years after they were withdrawn by Ariel Sharon, then Prime Minister. Back then it had been hoped by some that Gaza could become the model of a Palestinian state. Some even dreamt of turning the long, thin strip of sandy terrain into a Mediterranean Hong Kong.

Unfortunately for Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants the dreams never materialised. Gaza today is a giant prison, where law is administered by Hamas militants or the armed gangs that rule the teeming refugee camps, where the local population depends on United Nations handouts to survive.

Gazans are known for their strength of character in the face of appalling living conditions and the daily threat of violence. They must now fear that they will be tested to the limit in 2009.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Hamas’ Strategy of Escalation

The Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip entered its third day on Monday with over 300 Palestinians now dead. The Arab world is up in arms, and with Palestinians as fragmented as ever, the dream of an independent country seems no closer today than it did decades ago…

…An Indonesian militant group told Reuters on Monday that it planned to recruit up to 1,000 volunteers to fight in the Gaza Strip. “Fighters should be in good physical condition, have a strong faith and be ready to die,” said Ahmad Soebri Lubis, head of the Islamic Defenders’ Front…

…For weeks, the threats voiced by Israel had been clear and unmistakeable. Only last Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a stark warning to the Palestinians in an interview with an Arab TV channel: “Stop it” — or Israel would respond with violence to the rocket launchers and their backers, was his message.

Hamas’ Need for Violence

That, though, is exactly what Hamas seems to have been banking on. For Hamas, the gruesome television pictures that were beamed around the world following the Israeli air raids appear to have been part of the plan. They appear to have deliberately factored in the suffering of innocent victims when they refused to prolong their cease-fire with Israel. Ultimately, Hamas hopes the current escalation of violence will make the West take it seriously as a negotiating partner.

Otherwise it wouldn’t have provoked Israel and its mighty army. The Hamas leadership accepted the possibility that Palestinian civilians would be hurt in the Israeli counter-attack. The Hamas infrastructure is deliberately located in city districts where civilians live.

It seems unlikely that Hamas will ultimately be successful. The Palestinians are simply too divided to provide a unified response to Israel — too split for a third Intifada. On a political level, that became abundantly clear on Sunday. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah Party has the upper hand in the West Bank, condemned the attacks, but seemed to partially blame Hamas for the ongoing bloodbath in the Gaza Strip.

“We talked to them (Hamas) and we told them ‘please, we ask you, do not end the truce. Let the truce continue and not stop’ so that we could have avoided what happened,” Abbas said on Sunday in Cairo, where he had traveled for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Even among the moderate Palestinians living in Israel, the comment did not play well. “Imagine: hundreds of his fellow Palestinians have been killed and he uses the opportunity to blame the opposing party,” Abu Shadeh said in Jaffa. “I really don’t know what to expect anymore.”

Shadeh’s confusion is understandable. The entire Arab world is united in its condemnation of Israel. Many in Europe have likewise criticized the Israelis for overreacting and using disproportionate violence. But among the Palestinians themselves, the situation could hardly be more complicated. They are scattered across the Middle East — from Beirut to Cairo — and their politics fall across the political spectrum. Some are ready to fight and die to achieve their goal of a Middle East free of Israelis. Others seek to make peace with their Jewish neighbors. And the two dominant Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, are united only in their hate for one another.

Israel, in its regional dominance, has made it even more difficult for the Palestinians to work together, meaning the dream of an independent country seems no closer today than it did decades ago. The Palestinians quite simply have little political leverage because they have no political unity.

In Jaffa on Sunday, Arab-Israelis seemed intent on keeping a low profile. A restaurant owner there was one of many who was unwilling to comment on the ongoing violence. He ran his finger across his mouth, as if closing a zipper. “We make kebabs here,” he said. “We don’t do politics.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Incoming European Union President: Israel is Right

(IsraelNN.com) The Czech Republic, which takes over the European Union’s rotating presidency this week, takes Israel’s side in the conflict with Hamas.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who will become the EU’s president for the coming six months, told the Mlada Fronta Dnes daily newspaper that Hamas had excluded itself from serious political debate due to its rocket attacks on Israel.

Why am I one of the few that have expressed understanding for Israel? … I enjoy the luxury of telling the truth.

He also indirectly blamed the terrorist group for its own growing death toll by placing its military bases and gun warehouses in densely populated areas.

“Let us realize one thing,” Schwarzenberg said. “Hamas steeply increased the number of rockets fired at Israel since the ceasefire ended on December 19. That is not acceptable any more.”

He further said, “Why am I one of the few that have expressed understanding for Israel? … I enjoy the luxury of telling the truth.”

Schwarzenberg has said that he will work for closer relations between the EU and Israel.

EU Calls for End to Violence

The EU itself has called for a bilateral end to the violence that has killed almost 350 Gazans — practically all of them terrorists — and four Israeli citizens. France, the EU’s outgoing leader, condemned both Israel and Hamas, saying that Israel has displayed a “disproportionate use of force.”…

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]


Israeli Patrol Boat Rams Aid Ship

AN Israeli patrol vessel rammed a boat of Palestinian activists carrying a shipment of medical aid that tried to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, Israeli military radio said today.

The “Dignity” was ordered to turn around, and warning shots were fired across its bow, but the 20-metre vessel nevertheless tried to navigate around the patrol boat which blocked its passage, the radio station reported. No one was injured in the collision, but both vessels suffered damage. […]

Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon said the offensive’s goal “is to topple Hamas.”

Barak said if militant rocket attacks did not stop, “Israel will have recourse to every means and all legal actions at its disposal to see to it that the enemy halts its illegal aggression.”

The army decreed the border area a closed military zone — a move that in the past has been followed by ground operations. “After this operation there will not be a single Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and we plan to change the rules of the game,” said armed forces deputy chief of staff Brigadier General Dan Harel.

“We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings,” Harel said. […]

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]


Israeli Communist Party Goes to Support Hamas, PLO Factions in Gaza

In quite a typical fashion of Israel’s own Fifth Column being led by members of the Israeli Communist Party, Israeli Communist leaders have openly come out to condemn the Israeli government’s response toward Hamas. Many members of this Communist party were involved in helping organizing members of the Free Gaza movement which has been shipping “aid” to the Gazan Palestinians. In reality, it’s all just a ruse for PR, and possibly secret arms for Hamas:

Israeli Communists condemn attacks on Gaza, call for ‘another direction’ toward peace

The Communist Party of Israel and Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) condemned the deadly Dec. 27 attack by the Israeli Air Force on the Gaza Strip, which resulted in the killing of over 200 Palestinians.

In a statement issued the day of the massive airstrikes, the CPI called on communist and workers parties and social movements throughout the world to mobilize against what it termed “these Israeli war crimes” and called on the international community to “implement sanctions against Israel and indict Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and other Israeli political and military leadership for these blatant war crimes, committed as part of Israel’s election process.”

The CPI said the attack on Gaza is part of the Israeli government’s ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip. “Israel is exploiting the last moments of the Bush administration to implement the deadly but ineffective imperialist policy of utilizing military force to effect political change,” the statement said.

It noted that demonstrations against the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip were planned for Israel’s major cities, with demonstrations to be held that night in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Nazareth. The day before, hundreds of demonstrators attended a rally in central Tel Aviv to protest the expected Israeli military operation in response to Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza. The rally was organized by the Coalition against the Gaza Siege and Hadash.

“I suggest that we go the other direction,” said Hadash Knesset Member Dov Khenin, a leading member of the Communist Party of Israel. Israel’s power, he said, “is our tragedy. One powerful blow will not bring the end. [Hamas] will respond with rockets and eventually we’ll embark on an all-out war. Going in the other direction means reinforcing the lull, securing a ceasefire, and lifting the siege that only serves to unite the population around Hamas.”

A genuine peace process has to engage the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, he said. “What’s tragic here is that it’s possible. We just need the desire.”

Khenin added that it is “essential to secure a prisoner swap that would include Gilad Shalit.” When asked why few Israelis object to the war in Gaza, he responded: “People lost their hope. They realize that what’s happening is bad, yet they think there’s no other option. Yet we are not destined to be the victim of history.”

Another rally participant, former Knesset Member Tamar Gozansky, also a leading member of the CPI, said, “Two years ago we protested at the same site, before the Second Lebanon War. We were ostracized and referred to as traitors. Yet several months later, all the people who made fun of us carried their own signs to Rabin Square and protested against Olmert’s policy. I really hope that we won’t have yet another reason to say: ‘We told you so.’“

In an earlier statement, Khenin said, “A comprehensive war in Gaza is dangerous and unnecessary and will put the lives of thousands of Gazans and western Negev residents at risk.”

“War is not the solution” to the problem of the Kassam rockets fired into Israel by Hamas, he continued. “There is another way: a real truce agreement. Not just a ceasefire, but also ending the Gaza blockade and easing the extreme suffering of a million and a half people.”

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]


Merkel Blames Hamas for Gaza Violence

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has blamed Hamas for the escalation of violence in Gaza. A Merkel aide told reporters in Berlin that Israel’s military action was taken to protect the country’s civilian population from missile attacks by Palestinian militants. The spokesman called on Hamas to stop firing Kassem rockets and mortar shells at Israeli towns and villages immediately so that Israel can end its military operation. However, the Chancellor told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during a telephone conversation on Sunday that “everything possible” must be done to avoid civilians being hurt in the operations. Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate end to hostilities and urged Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Michael Ross: Jews Are News

While there may be dark clouds hovering over the boardrooms of companies and financial houses these days, there must have been collective whoops of joy in the world’s newsrooms — and in particular those belonging to network and cable TV news — at the onset of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza this past week.

Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and its neighbours is no longer a news story but an industry complete with a revolving conveyor belt overloaded with ambitious career-minded journalists, dubious Middle East “experts”, clueless peace activists, and patronizing diplomats and envoys who can be counted on to talk endlessly in clichés and platitudes about “halting the cycle of violence” and “getting the peace process back on track”.

One reason that this particular conflict attracts so much unqualified attention is because it is incredibly easy to cover while at the same time providing the necessary drama and “bang-bang” (newsroom slang for combat footage) that for reasons left better explained by a sociologist, seem to increase viewer ratings and heighten overall interest. The other reason is that such is the nature of the Palestinian propaganda machine that it is all too willing to make sure that foreign journalists — and in most cases their Palestinian stringers — are granted access to scenes of death and destruction that clearly portray the Israelis as warmongering monsters and the Palestinians as simple villagers who were just minding their own business until several thousand pounds of ordinance was dropped on their coordinates. This makes covering the conflict far less risky than say, in Iraq, where a journalist regardless of his political bias and that of his sponsoring news entity, could assuredly count on having his head separated from his body in a different kind of video-taped news story. The Palestinians know all too well the impact of bang-bang on our flat-screen TV’s and understand that scenes of civilian deaths are way more effective than a score of suicide bombers. This could be one reason why Hamas operates its missile batteries from well within civilian areas and from atop civilian buildings and structures — like schools for instance…

           — Hat tip: ML[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Egypt Mocks Iran, Hezbollah on Military Record

CAIRO, Dec 30 (Reuters) — Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit mocked the military records of Iran and the Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim movement Hezbollah in an escalating war of words over Egypt’s cooperation with Israel in the blockade of Gaza.

Aboul Gheit, in an interview with Egyptian television broadcast on Monday night, said Hezbollah destroyed Lebanon in 2006 and that its Katyusha rockets and rocket-propelled grenades were nothing compared to the Egyptian army.

Addressing Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, he said: “You are a man who used to enjoy respect, but you have insulted the Egyptian people.”

The Egyptian minister also attacked Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who criticised Arab governments on Monday for their lack of response to Israeli raids which have killed some 348 Palestinians in Gaza.

“It’s as if hundreds of thousands of Iranians shed their blood over the last 30 years,” he said, referring to the Egyptian view that its army bore the brunt of the suffering in wars with Israel for the sake of the Palestinians.

Egypt fought four wars with Israel between 1948 and 1973, losing tens of thousands of soldiers. In 1979, it became the first Arab country to make peace with the Jewish state.

“There are Iranian motives driving Arab parties to play in the interests of Iran,” the minister added.

Nasrallah, whose guerrilla forces withstood the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon in 2006, angered the Egyptian government with a speech on Sunday calling on Egyptians to take to the streets in protest at Egyptian policy.

Aboul Gheit replied: “Egypt is big and strong and no one outside it can move anything inside it. Egypt moves when the Egyptian people and the Egyptian leadership ask it to.”

The minister also lashed out at accusations that Egypt has obstructed the delivery of emergency aid from Arab governments to the people of Gaza through the Gaza-Egypt border.

“The allegations are many, the injustice is obvious and the plotting is clear,” he said.

But he later called for calm between Arabs. “There is much pulling and pushing in the Arab arena which requires much wisdom and calm for us to protect the (Arab) nation, which is going through extremely difficult circumstances,” he said.

He said plans for an Arab summit should wait until Arab foreign ministers have met in Cairo on Wednesday.

“Let’s concentrate on the work of the foreign ministers,” he said. “If we do not succeed in that, then we can look at other dimensions in the situation through the summit.”

           — Hat tip: no2liberals[Return to headlines]


Hezbollah: Israel May Take This Opportunity to Attack Lebanon

The head of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said Sunday that he had asked his fighters to be on alert for any possible Israeli attack on Lebanon following raids on Gaza that killed nearly 300 Palestinians.

In a televised address at a religious gathering marking the Shiite Day of Ashura south of Beirut, Nasrallah said “I have asked the brothers in the resistance in the south specifically to be present, on alert and cautious because we are facing a criminal enemy and we don’t know the magnitude of the conspiracies.”

“What is happening today is a Palestinian copy of the July war,” Nasrallah said, drawing a comparison between the Israel Defense Forces offensive in the Gaza Strip and the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which Hezbollah waged against Israel in southern Lebanon.

“This is exactly what happened with us. The possibilities and the same possibilities, the conspiracy is the same, the battle is the same battle, and the result, Allah willing, will be the same result,” the Hezbollah leader told the crowd.

Speaking about IDF preparations in northern Israel, at the border with Lebanon, Nasrallah said that he does not rule out the possibility that Israel fears a Hezbollah assault, “but there is another possibility,” he said, “that at this terrible timing, in the shadow of the Arab conspirators and the American political vacuum, between Bush and Obama, there is the possibility that the enemy will take advantage of the situation and attack Lebanon. They need it because of the elections, or to improve their power of deterrence. We need to be careful and not take what is happening lightly.”

The Hezbollah leader also mentioned the missiles recently discovered by the Lebanese army, which it said were aimed at Israel and had timers set for launch, saying that Israel, or someone working on Israel’s behalf, planted them. “Who put them there before a war?” he asked.

“When they found them, they said ‘people in Lebanon.’ We in the Hezbollah have the courage to take responsibility for every action and we won’t hide, like some others. Would it have been difficult for Israel to infiltrate southern Lebanon and put them there? The many Israeli agents, lone and institutional, could do this to give themselves an excuse to attack Lebanon.” […]

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]


Iran Hardliners Register Volunteers to Fight Israel

A group of Iranian hard-line clerics is signing up volunteers to fight in the Gaza Strip in response to Israel’s air strikes that have killed at least 300 Palestinians, a news agency reported on Monday.

“From Monday the Combatant Clergy Society has activated its website for a week to register volunteers to fight against the Zionist regime (Israel) in either the military, financial or propaganda fields,” the semi-official Fars news agency said.

[rohaniatmobarez.com writes: “From Monday the Combatant Clergy Society has activated its Web site for a week to register volunteers to fight against the Zionist regime (Israel) in either the military, financial or propaganda fields, the semi-official Fars news agency said.

1387/10/10 TEHRAN, Iran — A group of influential conservative Iranian clerics launched an online registration drive on Monday seeking volunteers to fight against Israel in response to its air assault on the Gaza Strip. About 3,550 people registered Monday with the Combatant Clergy Societys Web site. The weeklong online campaign gives volunteers three options on ways they can fight Israel: military, financial and propaganda.”]

The hard-line Iranian group, which is headed by some leading clergy, says it has no affiliation with the government and was formed shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious decree to Muslims around the world on Sunday, ordering them to defend Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli attacks “in any way possible.”

A religious decree is an official statement by a high-ranking religious leader that commands Muslims to carry out its message. While there is no religious and legal force behind it, Khamenei is respected by many Iranian and non-Iranian Shi’ites.

Iran refuses to recognize Israel, which accuses Tehran of supplying Hamas Islamists with weapons. Iran denies the claim, saying it only provides moral support to the group. […]

Fars said the hard-line group provided volunteers with a registration document called “Registration form for dispatching volunteers to Gaza.” It said more than 1,100 people so far had registered for military service against Israel.

Khamenei said on Sunday that whoever was killed in the fight to defend Palestinians was “considered a martyr.” Iran will send its first ship carrying aid to the Gaza Strip on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said. […]

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]


Jordan: Labour Market Employs 32,000 Children

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, DECEMBER 29 — Child labour is on the rise in Jordan with latest figures putting number of minors in job market around 32,000, statistics by the government showed today. Nearly 34 percent of working children are from the capital Amman, while other congested cities like Zaqa and Irbid are home to nearly 50 percent, according to minister of social development Hala Bseiso, who based the findings on a recent nationwide survey on child situation and social system. Jordanian officials complained that lack of awareness and wide spread poverty has contributed to the large increase in number of working children, many of them are employed in dangerous jobs. ‘‘We do not have the strong regulations to tackle to child labour,’’ said the minister. According to a recent study by the Ministry of Labour, 13 percent of working children are subjected to forced labour, with over 16 percent earning an equivalent of US 15-70 a month. The majority are school dropouts aged 9-17 who work average of 60-65 hours a week. Many children are often subject to systematic sexual abuse, but this phenomenon is brushed under the carpet by the society. Labour law bans the employment of children aged less than 16 years. Those aged between 16-18 years should not work more than a six-hour day, with employers liable to a JD500 fine if caught in violation. But the law is not being enforced. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Jordan: Foreign Assistance Increased by 67% in 2008

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, DECEMBER 30 — Jordan has been awarded USD 1.2 billion in foreign assistant during 2008, representing an increase of 67 percent compared to 2007, official figures showed today. The total grants committed by the US, the EU, Germany, Canada, Japan, China, Italy, Korea, the World Bank and UN agencies reached USD 719 million, according to figures by the ministry of planning and international cooperation. Moreover, Jordan contracted USD 418.5 million as soft loans from the Islamic Development Bank, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the World Bank, the French Development Agency, Germany, Italy and Switzerland to finance a number of priority projects in the areas of water, health, tourism, energy, as well as regional and municipal development. Minister of Planning and international cooperation, Suheir al Ali said Jordan’s moderate foreign policy was the catalyst for the increase in aid. ‘‘Our outstanding relations with the donor community and progress achieved in the implementation of reforms, as well as Jordan’s commitment to pursue these reform efforts were behind the increase in assistance, said the minister in an official statement. Some of the key projects Jordan has undertaken with the help of donors are water, health, education, tourism, energy and local development, in addition to grants in the form of budget support. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Jordan: Queen Rania Urges Jordanians to Donate to Gaza

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, DECEMBER 30 — Queen Rania of Jordan on invited Jordanians in letter today to donate food, medicine and cash for people in Gaza as they suffer from stifling embargo and continued Israeli air strikes. In a letter sent to Jordanians through main Arabic daily, the Queen, whòs of Palestinian origin, called on Jordanians to “take an action to offer a helping hand to people in Gaza.” “When your brother is in distress, you do not only feel sorry for them, you have to help out,” said the Queen, whose popularity in Jordan is on the rise as she continues advocating her time for humanitarian causes. “Yesterday the king donated his blood so that it mixes with the blood of people in Gaza and now we need to take an action as we start receiving donations to send to Gaza as of today,” said the queen, chairman of Nahr al Urdon charity organization. The invitation comes against the backdrop of similar calls by the opposition today to donate cash, medicine and basic food items to have them sent to Gaza in the coming days. Public protest in Jordan, like many places in the region, continued as Israel pounds the coastal enclave and prepares for an all out land invasion. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Mideast:Gaza; Jordan King Abdullah Donates Blood for Gazans

(ANSAmed), AMMAN, DECEMBER 29 — King Abdullah of Jordan said Monday Jordan will send military hospitals to Gaza to help treat the wounded following the air strikes on the city as he donated blood for Gazans. Abdullah told journalist in king Hussein medical centre after donating blood that he is working hard to end the attack on Gaza and that Jordanians are pained to see what is happening in the city. “We in Jordan are uncomfortable about what is happening in Gaza. We spoke to the army to prepare military hospitals and hopefully we will be sending them very soon to Gaza”. Abdullah said his country will provide the Palestinians with humanitarian aid. The opposition and the government are currently collecting blood in public hospitals to send it to Gaza as part of a nationwide campaign to support citizens of the Hamas controlled city.Jordan is home to nearly 5.6 million people, more than half of them are of Palestinian origin. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Saudi Police Break Up Pro-Gaza Protest: Residents

RIYADH (Reuters) — Witnesses said Saudi police fired rubber bullets to break up a pro-Palestinian protest on Monday, injuring up to eight people, but a government official denied the report.

Residents said between 200 and 300 people took part in the march in Saudi Arabia’s oil-producing Eastern Province.

Many protesters held pictures of Palestinians wounded in Israel’s military offensive against the Gaza Strip, which has killed more than 300 Palestinians since it began on Saturday.

At least three witnesses said they saw riot police fire rubber bullets after demonstrators clashed with security forces in the al-Qatif area.

However, Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki said there had been no protest.

“None of this is true. No rubber bullets have been fired, no clashes occurred and no demonstration happened. That’s what security sources in Qatif told me,” he said.

“As you know, protests in the kingdom are banned.”

One witness said two demonstrators were injured by rubber bullets. Two others said between six and eight were injured.

“We chanted slogans against Israel and America. We did not attack the (Saudi) government or the Arab political system,” said another witness, who did not want to be named.

“The police charged at us with sticks and electric batons. Some of us had to defend ourselves with shoes and rocks.”

One resident said the police had dispersed the crowds and blocked the main street in al-Qatif.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Swede Detained by US Forces in Iraq

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Pretty sure this is the same “Swede” who we posted news stories a couple months back.]

Swedish authorities have confirmed that a 40-year-old man from Norrköping is being held prisoner at a US detainment camp in Iraq.

The foreign ministry said the man, identified by local media as Ahmad Hamad, is viewed as a security detainee by US authorities. The ministry added that it was calling for the man to be either granted legal representation and a trial or released.

The 40-year-old is being held at the Camp Cropper internment facility near Baghdad Airport.

Hamad became a Swedish citizen after moving with his wife from Iraq in 2000. They have seven children.

His wife, Susin Hamad, told newspaper Norrköpings Tidningar that her husband had struggled to find work in Sweden and had moved to Ramadi, around 100 kilometres west of Baghdad, on May 2nd with the intention of setting up a construction company.

According to information received from Hamad’s family in Norrköping, the 40-year-old was arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and removed from his home at 2am on the morning of May 8th.

Susin Hamad said she did not know why her husband was being held captive as she did not believe he was politically active.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Russia

At Last, Stalin is Defeated by Russian Voters

Joseph Stalin came within a whisker of being voted the greatest Russian of all time yesterday in a marathon television contest that reached a dramatic climax after a six-month build-up.

The winner of the competition — modelled broadly on the BBC’s Great Britons series in 2002 which was won by Winston Churchill — was Alexander Nevsky, a 13th-century prince who defeated German invaders and was canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Grand Prince Nevsky garnered 524,575 votes, fewer than 1,000 ahead of Peter Stolypin, Tsar Nicholas II’s authoritarian Prime Minister, and 5,500 in front of Stalin.

The vote, which some commentators claimed had been rigged, went down to the wire, with presenters counting down the final seconds as viewers of the state-owned Rossiya channel voted by text message during the last programme. Among the other 11 finalists were the poet Alexander Pushkin, Vladimir Lenin and Tsar Alexander II, who abolished serfdom.

The vote comes after a concerted campaign in Russia to rehabilitate the Soviet dictator, who has been lauded in recent times on state television for his role as a victorious leader in the Second World War while school history books have softened their criticism of his repressions. A factor in Stalin falling behind other contenders could have been his Georgian roots, as anti-Georgian sentiment in Russia reached new heights this summer after the brief war in the former Soviet republic.

The Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has avoided direct comments rehabilitating Stalin, but state media have played down the deaths of millions of Russians under his rule, insisting it was unavoidable given the circumstances of rapid industrialisation and the threat of foreign invasions.

Under Mr Putin, authorities have cracked down on human rights groups that have tracked Stalin’s repressions. Earlier this month the St Petersburg offices of the Memorial group were raided and computer hard drives were confiscated. They contained 20 years’ work documenting victims of Stalin’s Terror and political persecution.

But although a win for Stalin would have provided a rationale for present-day crackdowns on political opposition, it would also have sent out a dangerous signal at a time of economic crisis, analysts said.

Before the final vote Sergei Markov, a member of parliament for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, said a win for Stalin would be viewed by the country’s ruling class as an anti-establishment vote. “The most important issue for Russia’s ruling class, and the heads of the TV channel, is that they don’t want Stalin to win, because that would give the impression of authoritarianism,” Mr Markov said.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political analyst with the Panorama think-tank, went farther, questioning the result. Stalin’s narrow defeat clearly understated the real support for him in society, he claimed.

“The vote was an absolute falsification,” Mr Pribylovsky said. “Stalin, Lenin and Peter I: these are the most important figures in Russian history. Thirty to 40 per cent of Russians would support Stalin.”

Neither Mr Putin nor President Medvedev has openly declared support for any of the contenders, but a close friend of Mr Putin’s, the Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov, delivered the closing argument for Stolypin on Saturday, giving a strong hint that he enjoyed Mr Putin’s backing. “Putin’s preferred figure is Stolypin,” Mr Markov said, but added that Mr Putin could not openly support any candidate, in case he lost.

Stolypin, a conservative politician who opposed liberal reforms and cracked down hard on the Bolsheviks, was assassinated by a socialist revolutionary in a Kiev theatre in 1912.

Some 50 million votes were cast on-line and by text message from all parts of the former Soviet Union, except Georgia. In the competition’s early stages in the summer, Stalin was the clear leader, but was closely followed by Nicholas II, whom the organisers admitted plugging to make the contest more interesting.

The result reflected “the big role of the state in all periods” of Russian history, Mr Markov said, adding: “A lot depends on who is the leader.”

Mark Urnov, the dean of political studies at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, said the closeness of the outcome looked “really strange, yet it reflected the state of our public mind”. The vote supports two myths that Russians buy into, he said. “One is a great Tsarist Russia, and the other is a great Soviet Russia under Stalin.

“This vote is the result of eight years of brainwashing by the mass media,” Mr Urnov said. “This vote for authoritarianism would never have happened eight years ago.”

Vote winners

1 Alexander Nevsky 524,575
2 Peter Stolypin 523,766
3 Joseph Stalin 519,071
4 Alexander Pushkin 516,608
5 Tsar Peter the Great 448,857
6 Vladimir Lenin 424,283

Stalin’s achievements

  • Stalin defeated the Nazis at Stalingrad in 1943, sweeping them out of Eastern Europe well before the Allies’ D-Day breakthrough
  • He cemented the Soviet Union’s status as a superpower, gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council
  • Stalin’s agricultural collectivisation alone led to the deaths of 14.5 million people
  • His Great Purge, which ran from 1936 to 1939, led to the deaths of 600,000 people
  • Of these, 81 out of the 103 generals and admirals in the armed forces were executed
  • About 20 million people were sent to penal camps during his time in power

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Moscow’s ‘Constructive Separatism’ in ‘Near Abroad’ Backfires in Russia

Vienna, December 29 — Abkhazia and South Ossetia are only the first examples of Moscow’s policy of “constructive ‘separatism’“ in the wake of NATO’s decision to recognize Kosovo, according to a Moscow analyst.

And both the region and the world, he says, should prepare themselves for analogous “geopolitical shifts” in the post-Soviet states.

But if the Russian government is interested in promoting separatist challenges in Ukraine and other countries through the sponsorship of groups like the Ruthenians, Moscow is equally committed to preventing any manifestations of the right of nations to self-determination on its own territory and to blocking any outside support for them.

In an article about “constructive ‘separatism’“ posted online last week, Leonid Savin provides both a general argument about the nature of separatism in the contemporary world and a specific discussion of the application of that argument to Ukraine and by extension to other post-Soviet states.

Separatism, the Moscow analyst notes, “is connected with various factors,” including historically rooted hostility between groups, policy mistakes, state failure, and the principles of national self-determination as laid out in a variety of international charters to which most countries of the world are signatories.

At present, he says, these factors are coming together in many places in the world. He mentions Somalia and Norway, among others, but nowhere are they playing a greater combined role than in some of the post-Soviet states and especially in the most populous non-Russian republic, Ukraine.

Savin cites the observation of Oleg Bakhtiyarov, the director of Kyiv’s University for Effective Development, on this point. According to the latter, “separatism is a protest against state weakness and the inability to create new values which unify society.” It thus challenges states “either to become stronger, smarter or more creative” or to fall apart.

“Crimea and Subcarpathian Rus’ are no exception” to this pattern, Bakhtiyarov continues. Either Kyiv will find “a vector unifying people and protecting the internal variety of Ukraine[‘s population] or separatism — Crimean, Ruthenian and then Donets, Slobozhan, and then Galician and Volhynian — will make of the Ukrainian idea only a memory.”

Given that danger, Savin argues, “Ukraine ought to reach out to the Ruthenians who are lawfully demanding autonomy within Ukraine … and to the Crimean Tatars” who otherwise will pursue their goal “the creation of a national state on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea.”

According to Savin, Kyiv to date has “preferred the carrot and stick method” of dealing with ethnic challenges, providing carrots to smaller groups who pose no real challenge to Ukraine’s territorial integrity but employing sticks whenever larger nations such as the Crimean Tatars and the Ruthenians demand their rights.

And he concludes that Moscow has every right to get involved. After all, he notes, “until 1945, the Transcarpathian oblast was part of Czechoslovakia and was transferred not to Soviet Ukraine but to the USSR (the treaty was signed by Molotov). And according to the logic of international law,” he suggests, Russia as “the legal successor” of the USSR thus has rights there.

That is why, Savin says by way of conclusion, “Ruthenian society has turned to Russia with a request to recognize their independence.”

But Moscow is not willing to acknowledge the rights of nations living within the current borders of the Russian Federation. Last week, OMON officers showed up at the residences of two leaders of the Kazan Tatar independence movement, Fauziya Bayramova and Faik Taziyev, in an effort to intimidate them.

At the same time, prosecutors called in the editor of the local Tatar-language youth newspaper, “Chally yash’lere,” and issued him a warning for publishing the text of the Declaration of Independence of Tatarstan. And officials blocked the website of another Tatar independence activist, Zulfiya Kadir.

Despite these actions, the Milli Mejlis, a body which unites Tatars interested in pursuing independence, managed to attract more than 100 delegates to a congress in Naberezhny Chelny, to announce the formation of a Tatar government in exile, and to issue an appeal calling on member states of the United Nations to recognize Tatarstan.

That effort is unlikely to succeed in the near term, but Moscow’s likely response — the use of the force structures against anyone who seeks to make such demands — almost certainly will not succeed either. Indeed, using force in this context likely will be the functional equivalent of fighting a grease fire with water.


As one St. Petersburg analyst noted last week, Moscow’s response to events in Russia’s regions shows that the center continues to believe that “‘if you have force, you don’t need to think.” That may work for a time, Mikhail Olgertov says, but in the end, “he who sows the wind will reap a whirlwind”.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


The Sinister Resurrection of Stalin

Who is the greatest Russian of all time? In the unlikely event that you answered “Stalin”, you would be in good company. One of the 20th century’s most horrific dictators has just come third in an opinion poll conducted by a Russian television station. Some 50 million people are said to have voted.

Myself, I have some doubts about the veracity of this poll, particularly given that the television station in question is state-owned, and therefore manipulated by the Kremlin. Also, first place went to Alexander Nevsky, a medieval prince who defeated German invaders — and an ideal symbol for the Putinist regime, which prides itself on its defiance of the West. Second place went to Piotr Stolypin, a turn-of-the-century economic reformer who, among other things, gave his name to the cattle cars (Stolypinki) in which prisoners were transported to Siberia — another excellent symbol for the “reformer with an iron fist” label to which both Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev aspire.

Both seem too good to be true; neither had ever before seemed like candidates for such an august title. Had the poll been completely free, I expect Stalin would have come in first place. Why wouldn’t he? After all, the government, media and teaching professions in Russia have spent a good chunk of the past decade trying to rehabilitate him — and not by accident.

All nations politicise history to some extent, of course. But in Russia, the tradition of falsification and manipulation of the past is deeper and more profound than almost anywhere else. In its heyday, the KGB retouched photographs to remove discredited comrades, changed history books to put other comrades in places where they had not been, monitored and tormented professional historians. Russia’s current leaders are their descendants, sometimes literally.

But even those who are not the children of KGB officers were often raised and trained inside the culture of the KGB — an organisation that believed that history was not neutral but rather something to be used, cynically, in the battle for power. In Putinist Russia, events are present in textbooks, or absent from official culture, because someone has taken a conscious decision that it should be so.

And, clearly, a decision has been made about Stalin. In a recently released, officially sanctioned Russian history textbook, in public celebrations and official speeches, the attitude towards him runs something like this: “Mistakes were made… errors were committed… but great things were achieved. And it was all worth it.”

This public portrayal of Stalin is highly selective. The many, many millions who died in the Gulag, in mass deportations or in mass murders are mentioned only as a kind of aside. Stalin’s purges of his closest colleagues and revolutionary comrades are given short shrift. The terror that made people afraid to speak their minds openly, that made children turn their parents in to the police, that stunted families and friendships, is absent from most contemporary accounts. Even Stalin’s programmes of industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation — which modernised the country at enormous cost to the population, the environment, and Russia’s long-term economic health — are not dwelled upon.

Instead, it is Stalin’s wartime leadership that is widely celebrated, and in particular his moment of imperial triumph in 1945, when Soviet-style communism was imposed on Russia’s western neighbours. In that year, Eastern Europe became a Russian colony and, more to the point, Stalin negotiated as an equal with Roosevelt and Churchill.

Annually, Russia’s May celebrations of the anniversary of victory in 1945 grow more elaborate. Last year, they included several thousand Russian soldiers dressed in Soviet uniforms, waving the Soviet flag and singing Soviet songs. Major pieces of weaponry were paraded across Red Square, just like in the old days, to enormous applause.

Books about the war have also now become a major publishing phenomenon in a country that, up until a few years ago, hardly published any popular history at all. Most major bookstores now have a war section, often featuring books like one I picked up in Moscow a few months ago. Entitled We Defeated Berlin and Frightened New York, it is the memoir of a pilot who describes the joy of bombing raids and revels in Russia’s long-lost power to frighten others.

Even more significant is the role that the celebration of the Soviet Union’s imperial zenith now plays in a larger narrative about recent Russian history, namely the story of the 1980s and the 1990s. Famously, Putin once said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, presumably larger than either world war. He, along with the Russian media and the current Russian president who echo him, now considers the more open discussion of the Stalinist past that took place during Gorbachev’s glasnost to have been a distraction, a moment of national weakness. More to the point, they openly attribute the economic hardships of the 1990s not to decades of communist neglect and widespread theft, but to deliberate Western meddling, Western-style democracy and Western-style capitalism.

In fact, this argument now lies at the heart of the current Russian leadership’s popular legitimacy. Summed up, it goes something like this: communism was stable and safe; post-communism was a disaster. Putinism, within which Medvedev fits naturally, represents a return at last to the stability and safety of the communist period. Cheer for Stalin, cheer for Putin, cheer for Medvedev, and the media will once again be predictable, salaries will be paid on time, Russia’s neighbours will be cowed, and Russia’s leaders will, once again, negotiate on equal terms with the leaders of the West.

Besides, the more people take pride in the Stalinist past, the less likely they are to want a system that is more genuinely democratic and genuinely capitalist — a system in which the Russians might, for example, vote their president out of power, or hold a street revolution of the kind that brought down corrupt, post-Soviet governments in Georgia and Ukraine. The more nostalgia there is for Soviet-era symbols, the more secure the KGB clique is going to be.

None of which implies that the current Russian government is itself Stalinist either. As the recent election of Medvedev proved, Putin does not need that level of repression in order to stay in power. Too much violence might even threaten his legitimacy which is, as I say, based on an implied guarantee of stability and safety.


Nor was this rewriting of history ever inevitable. Despite the clichés people often spout about Russians invariably leaning towards authoritarianism or dictatorship, Russia was never condemned to celebrate this version of history.

On the contrary, a future government could, instead, rediscover the legacy of Russian liberalism at the beginning of the 20th century or even the legacy of the Russian dissidents, who in the 1960s and 1970s essentially invented what we now call the modern human rights movement. Every country has a right to celebrate some positive elements of its past, and Russia is no exception. But that Putin and his colleagues have chosen, of all things, to celebrate Stalinist imperialism tells us a good deal about their vision of their country’s future.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Indonesia: MUI Urges Muslims to Boycott U.S. Products

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has urged all Indonesian Muslims to boycott U.S.-made products, to push president-elect Barrack Obama to halt the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Boycotting U.S. products was a way for Indonesia to pressure the United States to stop conflicts between Israel and Palestine’s Hamas group, MUI fatwa commission chairman Ma’ruf Amin said Tuesday .

“Israel … will only be afraid of the U.S., so all Muslims must urge Obama to intervene and overcome the conflict,” Ma’ruf said.

The MUI hoped Obama would not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who had failed to adopt a neutral stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Malaysia: Mediators to Ease Tensions

KUALA LUMPUR — MALAYSIA’S government plans to train special mediators to resolve disputes between neighbors of different races in a bid to prevent communal tensions in the ethnically diverse country, officials said on Tuesday. About 300 volunteer community representatives would undergo mediation courses starting next month as part of the government’s efforts to curb racial and religious friction, said Azman Amin Hassan, director general of the National Unity and Integration Department.

‘They will be residents who can talk to both sides in a dispute to defuse racial problems,’ Mr Azman told The Associated Press.

Authorities have acknowledged that racial polarisation has increased in recent years even though the Malay Muslim majority still has generally amicable relations with the large ethnic Chinese and Indian communities, who are mainly Buddhists, Christians and Hindus.

Malaysia has not suffered major ethnic violence since 1969, when riots fueled partly by Malay rancor over the Chinese’s wealth left more than 200 people dead.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: note the qualifier — “major” — this stuff goes on all the time.]

Nevertheless, grievances between ethnic communities have occasionally sparked bloodshed. A dispute between Malays who celebrated a wedding and their Indian neighbors who held a funeral at the same time prompted violence that killed six people near Kuala Lumpur in 2001.


Mr Wan Abdul Halim Othman, a sociologist who will be training the mediators, said the program will initially be implemented in urban areas where the risk of racial disputes is relatively high because many multiethnic residents live alongside each other.

‘We need neutral mediators who can prevent the usual conflicts between neighbors from accumulating and transforming into ethnic problems,’ he said. ‘In disputes involving different ethnic groups, people in the community tend to take sides based on race, but nobody mediates.’

The program would initially be rolled out in Kuala Lumpur, central Selangor state, northern Penang state and southern Johor state. If successful, it would be implemented nationwide.

Ethnic divisions have deepened amid increasing complaints by minorities about special privileges enjoyed by Malays in jobs, education and other areas. Some also say their religious rights have become secondary to Islam. The government has denied any unfair treatment.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


OIC Concerned Over Pak Airspace Violation by India

ISLAMABAD: Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu has expressed concern over the recent violation of Pakistan’s airspace by the Indian Air Force.

Ihsanoglu conveyed his apprehension over the deteriorating security situation in South Asia following the Mumbai terrorist attacks. In a statement posted on the OIC website, Ihsanoglu appealed to Pakistan and India to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any action that might be detrimental to peace and security in the region.

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]


Three Killed, 13 Troops Hurt in Thai South — Police

YALA, Thailand (AFP)—Suspected separatist insurgents have killed three people and injured 13 soldiers in shootings and a bomb attack in Thailand’s Muslim-majority far south, police said Tuesday. A 41-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman — both employees of the state-owned telephone operator — were killed in a drive-by shooting as they traveled together in a car in Pattani province Monday evening. Later that night in the same province, a 43-year-old soldier was shot dead and six troops were injured after they were ambushed by a group of rebels who are fighting for a separate state in the three far-southern Thai provinces. Tuesday afternoon in neighboring Yala province, seven soldiers were hurt when a roadside bomb hit the pickup truck they were traveling in. Two of the soldiers are in a serious condition, police said. More than 3,500 people have been killed since separatist unrest erupted almost five years ago in the deep south. Tensions have simmered since Thailand annexed the mainly Malay sultanate in 1902.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Far East

Japan Paid Y200 Million for Release of University Student Kidnapped in Iran

TOKYO — Japan paid about 200 million yen to resolve the kidnapping of a Japanese national in Iran, a government source said Monday. The money is believed to have been a de facto ransom payment for university student Satoshi Nakamura, who was kidnapped by an armed group in October last year and released after eight months in June this year.

The Foreign Ministry denied making the payment, with an official saying it is ‘‘groundless.’’ The source said the money was allegedly disbursed from the Foreign Ministry’s discretionary fund and delivered to the armed group.

Nakamura, a 24-year-old student at Yokohama National University, was kidnapped while traveling near the southeastern Iranian city of Bam on Oct 7 after entering Iran by way of Pakistan. He was freed after negotiation efforts by the Iranian authorities and others.

Another Japanese government official has said Japan paid $3 million for the release of four Japanese in 1999 in Kyrgyzstan under the name of economic assistance. Japan has also denied making the payment.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Johnny Neihu’s News Watch: a Heritage of Non-Denial Denial

[Comment from Tuan Jim: I’ve enjoyed JN’s satirical weekly op-ed’s for quite some time — providing a very unique view of Taipei and it’s relationship with China (and the rest of the world) and this one seemed a little more valid for posting here than others.]

People from outside Taiwan who support my beloved homeland tend to find themselves in the strangest company.

Leftists and rightists who would gouge each other’s eyes out on any other issue frequently embrace to defend Taiwanese self-determination.

Let me qualify that … and apologize in advance for the crudity of my generalizations. Perhaps I should say that foreigners who are “practical” leftists (eg, human rights and labor activists, church workers on the ground) embrace rightist “ideologues” (eg, pro-defense, pro-conservative values, anti-big government and commiephobes) to defend Taiwanese self-determination.

On the other hand, foreigners who are “practical” rightists (corporate barons, US State Department policy mavens) and leftist “ideologues” (Cultural Revolution nostalgia peddlers, Hugo Chavez and other hopelessly confused or dishonest people) prefer the banquet of largess and hubris that China offers over the less-than-lucrative blasphemy of Taiwanese nationalism.

In the middle, people sit on the fence and are not inclined to believe in very much at all except something that hovers between unenlightened self-interest and family values, neither of which offers much guidance on what to do with cross-strait difficulties.

So you see, dear reader, how odd it is for people to call the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) “right wing.”…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Philippines: Police on Alert for Terror Attacks

MANILA, Philippines — Police in Metro Manila will remain on heightened alert status to monitor possible terror attacks in commemoration of the Rizal Day bombing eight years ago, director Leopoldo Bataoil said Tuesday.

A series of explosions rocked Metro Manila on Dec. 30, 2000, leaving a number of people dead and scores wounded. The explosion that claimed the most casualties was inside one of the trains of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) at Blumentritt station.

Although police have not monitored any specific terror threats in Metro Manila, Bataoil said police were not discounting “indicators” such as the twin blasts in two malls in Iligan City, as well as the arrest of a number of suspects reportedly planning to launch a series of attacks in the metropolis.

“Huwag nating balewalain yung mga indicators tulad ng sa Iligan. Dapat lang na seryosohin natin yung ating crime prevention program at target-hardening para hindi mangyari ang ating kinatatakutan [Let us not ignore these indicators like what happened in Iligan. We should take our crime prevention program and our target-hardening seriously so that there won’t be a repeat of our fears],” Bataoil said.

To help in its crime-prevention program, police have sought the help of “force multipliers,” consisting of civil society groups, which would help in monitoring crime across the region.

“Each one of us and our force multipliers will continue their tasking. We will monitor odd behavior, suspicious individuals who have plans of bombing some places, hold hostages or sow terrorism,” Bataoil said in Filipino.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Why Al Qaeda Isn’t Gaining a Foothold in Cambodia

CHROYAMONTREY, Cambodia — In this village, and others like it throughout Cambodia, Muslims and non-Muslims live side by side in harmony, their existences unmarred by the toxic cocktail of government repression, separatist ambitions, and growing radicalism characteristic of many neighboring countries.

“I’ve been living with Muslim neighbors since I was young,” says resident Ouk Ros. “When there’s a marriage, we join together in the party.”

Still, as money and influence from the Persian Gulf pours into Cambodia, many fear that pockets of the 400,000 strong Muslim community could fall into the orbit of a less-tolerant form of Islam.

“There are some organizations here from the Middle East that are very radical and that are very intolerant, and they are trying very hard to change the attitude and the atmosphere of the Muslim population here,” the outgoing US Ambassador, Joseph Mussomeli warned in August…

…But there are fears that Cambodia’s moderate form of Islam could be contested. In recent months, ties between Cambodia and the Persian Gulf have grown as the Gulf States look to Cambodia as a potential buyer of oil and supplier of food. In September, the government of Kuwait pledged $546 million in soft loans, while Qatar pledged $200 million. Kuwait has also earmarked $5 million to refurbish a mosque in Phnom Penh.

There are fears that the money could open the door to private individuals and foundations who seek to influence the Muslim community here. Whether founded or not, in January, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened its first office in Cambodia, citing the potential for terrorism.

“Cambodia is an important country to us for the potential of persons transiting Cambodia — using Cambodia as a spot for utilizing terrorism,” FBI director Robert Mueller said, inaugurating the new office.


           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

The Battle of Broken Hill: the First Islamic Terrorist Attack on Australian Soil, 1915

On January 1, 1915 two Broken Hill men, both former camel drivers, armed themselves with rifles, an homemade flag bearing Islamic insignia and a large supply of ammunition and launched a surprise attack on the Picnic Train about 3 kilometres outside Broken Hill.

The train carried about 1200 Broken Hill residents to Silverton where a picnic to celebrate the new year was to take place.

The two Muslim men, Gool Mohamed originally a Pashtun tribesman from Afghanistan and Mullah Abdullah from what is known today as Pakistan, decided to wage Jihad against Australian infidels after Australia and the Ottoman Empire officially joined the opposite sides in the WWI.

Despite attempts from “progressive” authors, who try to explain the actions of the two Muslim men as acts of misplaced patriotism or as a desperate response to brutal racial persecution, the reasons for the terrorist attack were clearly stated by the perpetrators themselves. Both men knew very well they were going to die and (as any present day terrorists do) and left notes explaining that they had to become martyrs — DEFENDING THEIR FAITH and the caliphate.

The attack was not spontaneous. It was a very well planned and a premeditated act. Both men wanted to inflict as much damage and kill as many infidels as possible and having almost the entire population of the tiny settlement packed into forty open, wooden carriages where people sat in rows, shoulder to shoulder on flat wooden benches, presented a great opportunity to do just that.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]


Topless Ban to Protect Muslims and Asians

Conservative MP Fred Nile says he wants topless bathing banned in NSW to protect Sydney’s Muslim and Asian communities. The Reverend Nile has rejected allegations that prudishness is behind a bill he has prepared to ban nudity, including topless sunbathing, on the state’s most popular beaches.

Australia’s reputation as a conservative but culturally inclusive sociery was at risk of erosion by more liberal overseas visitors, he said. “Our beaches should be a place where no one is offended, whether it’s their religious or cultural views,” he said.

“If they’ve come from a Middle Eastern or Asian country where women never go topless — in fact they usually wear a lot of clothing — I think it’s important to respect all the different cultures that make up Australia.”

The practice was at risk of raising the ire of Muslim men in particular, Mr Nile said. “I don’t want to have any provocations or disturbances on our public beaches,” he said.

Acting Premier Carmel Tebbutt and the NSW Opposition Leader, Barry O’Farrell, have both said that topless bathing is an issue for local councils, not state governments.

But Mr Nile said he believed most politicians would come around once all the issues were considered. “I think if you survey Australian women you’ll find a lot of women would be uncomfortable if it became the custom [of going] topless at the beach,” he said. “Australia’s always been a conservative country as far as beachwear goes.

“Once being topless is accepted as lawful the next question will be why can’t women go totally nude on a public beach and I don’t think Australians want to go down that pathway.”

NSW Liberal powerbroker David Clarke and Labor MP Paul Gibson have reportedly vowed to support the bill.

AAP reports: Mr O’Farrell said topless bathing was not a matter for Parliament. “This is a matter for local councils to deliberate, at a time when state parliament should be focusing on roads, public transport, hospitals and education,” he said today. “It doesn’t rate on the list of important matters for the Parliament of NSW.”

Up to individuals: Gillard

Speaking to reporters in Melbourne, acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the topless issue was one of context and clear signage.

“People want to go to the beach and use the beach in a variety of ways. Obviously family groups want to go to the beach, people who want to get a bit of sun all over also want to go to the beach,” she said. “As long as people know what the rules are and know what to expect I think it is a matter for the individuals involved.”

Ms Gillard urged topless bathers to be sun smart. “There is also a stage where people should be getting the hat on, getting the shirt on and getting the sunscreen on,” she said.

Topless bathing not an issue: Bondi mayor

Waverley Council Mayor Sally Betts says she is aghast at moves by state politicians to outlaw women from sunbathing topless on NSW beaches.

“We’ve got alcohol-related violence, we’ve got under-age drinking and anti-social behaviour in the public domain — those are really important issues,” Ms Betts told Fairfax Radio Network. “If the Reverend Nile really wants to help people he should focus on those issues.”

Ms Betts said she was at the beach on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and did not notice any topless women.

But if it was a problem, she would have heard about it, she said. “In Waverley, we have a very involved community. They complain about everything,” she said. “But nobody has complained to me about topless [women].”

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

British Missionaries in Gambia Jailed for One Year With Hard Labour for Sedition

David Fulton, 60, a former Army major, and his wife, Fiona, 46, pleaded guilty to making seditious comments “with intent to bring hatred or contempt against the president or the government”.

Their sentence, in a country which has one of west Africa’s worst human rights records, sparked concern after reports that other prisoners on similar charges have been poisoned while in jail.

The couple, originally from Torquay in Devon, have spent 12 years in Gambia. They were arrested on 29 November at their home at Kerr Sering, an hour’s drive from the capital through tropical bush, and accused of spreading “hatred against the government” via a series of round-robin emails believed to relate to their missionary work.

Friends said that they were not given details of what exactly they were accused of until appearing in court.

They were sentenced in the capital, Banjul, and will be held at one of Africa’s toughest jails, the former colonial penal institute of Mile Two Prison. They were also fined 250,000 Dalasis (£6,500).

According to Pastor Martin Speed, of Westhoughton Pentecostal Church in Bolton, who has been campaigning for the Fultons’ release, the couple were advised to admit the sedition charge in the hope that the judge might show leniency.

The Fultons met two decades ago in England. He had found God while serving a sentence for armed robbery and she was a prison visitor. They have two children, Iona, 20, and Luke, 17, who are studying in Exeter, Devon.

Mr Fulton was a chaplain in the Gambian army and at the national airport and had begun ministering to spiritual needs at the immigration posts that dot the long frontiers with Senegal, to the north, south and east.

Meanwhile, Mrs Fulton spent her time training prison chaplains, looking after terminally ill people and visiting female hospital patients.

Peter McMinn, Mrs Fulton’s father, said that before the couple’s arrests, his son-in-law had been attacked three times in the street by locals who did not like the couple’s Christian beliefs. He said: “They threw stones at him and attacked him with bits of wood. He was very shaken.”

Mr McMinn, 80, from Teignmouth, Devon, said of his daughter: “She has done nothing wrong. If anything she has been a blessing to people out there.

“David went out to Gambia initially on holiday and then decided that he liked the people and wanted to do God’s work out there. My son-in-law is a very kind man and a good Christian. All he wanted to do was help people.

“My daughter is a wonderful mother and a person who selflessly does her best to help those in need. She is doing work that God has given her to do.”

Gambia is ruled by President Yahya Jammeh, whose record on human rights and civil freedoms has been questioned after a crackdown on anyone who has criticised the government.

There have been six coup attempts during his 14-year rule. Whilst the country is constitutionally secular, the population is 90 per cent Muslim.

Amnesty International believes that at least 30 alleged government opponents are being held in poor conditions in Mile Two without charge or access to lawyers or their families.

A recent report by the human rights watchdog concluded: “Lawyers are reluctant to take on human rights cases for fear of reprisals and families of victims are afraid to speak out. The media, for the most part, censors itself in the face of arrests, fines, threats and physical attacks on those accused of criticising the government. All public protests have ceased.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Piracy: Two Turkish Ships Find Route to Freedom

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, DECEMBER 29 — Ransom bargaining for two Turkish ships taken hostage in the Gulf of Aden has concluded and now debates continue regarding how the ransom will be delivered, and if an agreement is reached, 34 staff will be set free in January, daily Sabah reported. The inklings of a route to freedom have begun for two turkish ships, the Neslihan and Karagol that were hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. It has been made known that the two ships have been brought to the Eil port and ransom bargaining has come to an end, while now delivery methods are being deliberated. Fehmi Ulgener, the lawyer for the Ya-Sa Denizcilik Company, which owns the Neslihan ship that has been hijacked with 20 crew members stated to Sabah that he had spoken to the captain adding that “We have now reached the end of the road. I am hoping they will be set free in the beginning of the New Year. They are all in good health condition. Now, we are discussing how to deliver the ransom. From his side the attorney of the Karagol ship, Kubilay Marangoz, stated that “We are expecting that the ship and its 14-member crew will be freed in January”. Deals continue regarding how the money will be delivered to the pirates. There are two methods which have been approved by the pirates. They are demanding either the money be dropped in a balloon that will not sink by air from a helicopter or plane, or for the ransom to be delivered by ship. At the moment the delivery from the air is the most probable method to be used. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Immigration

Illegal Baby Boom Hits Big Easy

‘Most violent city in America’ hosts exploding alien population

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, illegal aliens flocked to New Orleans from other U.S. cities to find work ? but three years after the storm, the most violent city in America is festering with crime while schools are overcrowded and immigrant births are ballooning.

The New Orleans Economic Development office estimates the city’s Hispanic population has more than tripled since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. It has risen from 15,000, or 3.3 percent of pre-Katrina residents, to 50,000, or 15 percent of today’s population.

Tulane University and the University of California, Berkeley, released a 2006 study revealing that almost half of the city’s construction labor force was Hispanic. At least 54 percent were found to be illegal aliens, and 90 percent had lived elsewhere in the U.S. before migrating to New Orleans.

[…]

In 2004, Emergency Medicaid cost taxpayers $1.7 million in Metro New Orleans, according to the report. Now the government program covers five times as many people, and the cost is more than 4.5 times what it used to be — at $7.8 million.

[…]

Likewise, schools are having trouble keeping up.

Director Melinda Martinez of a Esperanza Charter School, a taxpayer-funded English-immersion institution in New Orleans, told the AP her elementary school doesn’t ask about immigration status.

In May, Esperanza Charter School teacher Judy Flores told Louisiana’s WWLTV she would never inquire about whether her students were legal.

“If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you,” Flores said. “Whether you agree or disagree, politics and that situation is outside of what our job is; our job is to make sure our students learn and feel safe in our environments.”

A full 60 percent of Esperanza students are Latino, while 30 percent are black and 10 percent are white. Each class has extensive waiting lists.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Immigration: Malta, 140 Migrants Rescued at Sea

(ANSAmed) — VALLETTA, DECEMBER 29 — One hundred and forty migrants from a number of different African countries have been picked up at sea by the Maltese navy, and are headed for the Valletta port onboard a motorized patrol boat. The immigrants, from Ghana, Somalia and Nigeria, were intercepted about 40 miles south of the island nation. Among them are ten women, all of whom are pregnant. Emergency services have been set up in the port to receive the migrants, who were at the mercy of the waves in a storm, with strong wind and heavy rain. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Immigration: Spain; Voluntary Re-Entry Plan Fails

(by Paola Del Vecchio) (ANSAmed) — MADRID, DECEMBER 19 — It has only been in force for one month but it is already a clear ‘flop’.. Spain’s Voluntary Re-entry Plan for immigrants to return to their countries of origin has so far seen just 676 persons making applications, compared to the 100 thousand expected by the Zapatero government. Meanwhile, Spain’s Cabinet has today launched a plan of legal reform concerning immigration law, raising to 70 days the maximum period of detention for illegal immigrants and tightening conditions for family members joining from abroad. At the same time, in Catalonia, any foreigner wanting to have his permits put in order will be required to be able to speak Catalan. The objective of the re-entry plan, proposed by Labour and Immigration Minister, Celestino Corbacho, is to promote the return of unemployed citizens to their countries of origin, allowing foreign workers to cash in their pension contributions in a one-off process, in exchange for an undertaking not to return to Spain for a period of three years. The average amount so far paid out to foreigners, according to Ministry figures, is of around 9,670 euro. But despite the fact that the rate of arrival of applications has increased seven-fold since the initiative was introduced, it would take 11 years to arrive at the total of 100 thousand re-entries forecast by the Government. The cause of the failure? “The fact that the executive tried to introduce the plan as an anti-crisis measure, without consulting immigrant associations”, according to the Chair of the Moroccan Workers’ and Immigrants’ Association (ATIME), Kamal Rahamouni. The Moroccan community is that with the largest number of immigrants in Spain, at around 644,688 persons, of whom only two have requested to join the Re-entry plan. “Those who have paid in a large amount of pension contributions have been in Spain for many years, and for them a return to their homelands would represent a renewed uprooting”, notes Raul Jimenez, spokesperson for the Ecuadorian association, Ruminahui. Today’s Cabinet move has been the launching of a reform of the law on foreign nationals, with an increase in the maximum period of detention in reception centres for illegal immigrants from 40 to 60 days, with another 10 at the request of a court. This, with a turn of tough measures being announced for the conditions under which family members may join from abroad. “These are corrections to contradictions existing in the present legislation”, Corbacho noted, “which allows for children aged between 16 and 18 to come, but without conceding them permission to work”. The new law would allow them to work, but in the case of elderly relatives, they would only be allowed to join their families once they have reached the age of 65, and once the applying immigrant has obtained permission to reside permanently, after five years. The reform project, which has to be approved by the Chamber of Deputies, modifies around 50 of the 71 articles in existing law, introducing some fundamental rights for the ‘sin papeles’, those without the requisite documents to remain in the country, which have not been provided for by the law before now. These include the right to belong to a union, to strike, to hold meetings, to demonstrate, the rights to education and free legal aid. The reform addresses the three main pillars of immigration policy: the fight against people trafficking, with the appearance on the books of new crimes and toughening of penalties; the linking to the labour market, which will determine inflows; and integration, with a 200-million fund for autonomous communities and councils. “These are measures towards legal and regulated immigration”, Corbacho noted. The further handicap for immigrants to Catalonia who are seeking to get their documents in order is that they will have to show proficiency in the Catalan tongue, as envisaged by the Immigration Pact approved by the region’s three-party government. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Immigration: On Youtube a Story From an Italian Point of View

(ANSAmed) — ROME, DECEMBER 19 — A video on YouTube talks about identity conflicts across two shores of the Mediterranean from the point of view of an Italian. Alessio Osele, film-maker and journalist from Italy’s Trentino, decided to get to know what it’s like to be a Moslem immigrant in Italy after meeting a young Tunisian musician. And also to follow his friend in re-tracing his sea voyage back to Tunisia, across the space of sea that both separates and unites the populaces living on either shore. This is the story told by Osele in his video, with the Arab subtitles as reminder that this is an attempt at dialogue with the other side: it’s the story of a journey that takes in a few of Italy’s cities, seen with the double vision of second generation immigrants, which the narrator has tried to approach with a completely open mind, after the many journeys he has undertaken, which have, however, also opened up fresh questions. Such as when the nineteen-year-old girl he meets in Padova, with the awareness of the issues around her condition as a young Moslem living in Italy, says that she could never fall in love with a Catholic (keeping in line with the rule forbidding a Moslem woman from marrying a man not of the same faith). The wall of religious dogma that proves the impossibility of true and unconditional dialogue? Maybe, Osele replies, aware of the various possible interpretations of sacred texts o Islam, a religion without a central authority or clerical hierarchy. But in the end he keeps the conviction that no matter how high that wall may be, “there is still plenty of room for dialogue, and a great deal of goodwill to conduct it from both sides of the divide”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Immigration: Post-Christmas Emergency, Landings in Sicily

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, DECEMBER 28 — The latest 300 non-European migrants have run aground on the rocks of Linosa — both due to the lack of experience of those onboard, and Wind Force 4 conditions at sea. The raft filled with would-be immigrants had been headed for Lampedusa, which over the last few days has seen an unceasing onslaught of landings bringing 1500 to the island. Also today many of the Pelagie Islands, a common destination for those journeys of desperation and of hope, have seen a considerable number arriving on their shores: 234, including 60 women and dozens of under-18s. The number is bound to rise, a “raft” with over 150 non-Europeans has been spotted 80 miles off the island. The repercussions have also reached as far as Rome, with majority and opposition have blamed Libyan leader Gadafi of not having respected the agreements on the issue with Italy. The Lampedusa temporary detention centre is groaning under the weight of the new arrivals, with 1560 on its premises, double its maximum holding capacity. Today the first transfers from the centre have begun, with 540 people siphoned off to Brindisi, CrOtone and Pian del Lago. Today’s first landing was early this morning, when a large raft carrying 234 non-European immigrants, some bearing Oriental features, were intercepted by the ‘Bettica’ Marine patrol boat and a motorized one from the Financial Guard. The transfer was slowed by negative weather conditions at sea. Rescue operations for the raft which crashed into the Punta Faraglioni cliffs in Linosa were also complicated. Some of the immigrants who had fallen overboard have been rescued from the sea, and five motorized patrol boats have been sent for their transfer to Lampedusa: three from the Coast Guard, one from the Customs Police and one from the Carabinieri, with 171 migrants so far taken onboard.. The remaining 160 will remain on Linosa for the time being, until conditions at sea allow for their transfer. Meanwhile, Libyan leader Gadafi has been called an “former financier of international terrorism” by Northern League member Mario Borghezio. “As I had easily predicted,” he said, “he is treating our country as the worst of blackmailers would: it is time we drew the necessary conclusions”. Calling for policies to fight against illegal immigration, “harsh and effective against those who illegally land on our shores and incisive diplomatic actions to obtain immediate respect for commitments taken at an international level was the PDL deputy leader in the Chamber, Italo Bocchino, while PD shadow minister Marco Minniti addressed the government in polemical terms. “What is now happening in Lampedusa,” said the representative of the Democratic Party, “bears ever clearer witness to the fact that the strategy of a ferocious facade worn by the government as concerns illegal immigration has failed miserably.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Immigration: Maroni, Libyan Coast Patrols From January

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, DECEMBER 29 — Patrols along the Libyan coast will begin not later than January, following the agreement reached last year between the Libyan and Italian interior ministries. In an interview with Radio Padania, Roberto Maroni explained that “right now, a delegation from the Italian government is in discussions with Libyan officials and I have been assured by the interior minister, Franco Frattini, that the patrols will begin in January. I am optimistic. If they start in January, as the Libyans assure us that they will, we will be able to say goodbye to landings on Lampedusa”. The problem of illegal immigrants arriving by boat does not only interest Italy by also other countries such as Cyprus, Malta and Greece, and therefore Maroni has organised a meeting on January 13 with the interior ministers of these countries with the aim of reaching “a common strategy”. There is also the aim of “bringing our claims to the European level on January 15, when the European Council will meet in Prague”. Certainly — according to the interior minister — the start of patrols along the Libyan coast “will mean we can say goodbye to landings at Lampedusa, once and for all”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Immigration: First Repatriations From Lampedusa to Egypt

(ANSAmed) — AGRIGENTO (ITALY), DECEMBER 30 — According to the police department of Agrigento (Sicily), today will see the first force repatriation of non-EU residents who have arrived on the island of Lampedusa over recent days: 38 Egyptians will be put on a flight this evening heading from Lampedusa to Cairo. The operation is to be co-ordinated directly on the ground by Police Chief, Girolamo Di Fazio. The immediate repatriations of illegal immigrants whose nationalities have been established were announced yesterday by Italy’s Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni. The Cairo flight was made possible under bilateral accord between Italy and Egypt. As the police department explained, no further air-bridges are foreseen for today for the transferral of immigrants held in the island’s reception centre to other centres. But around 90 persons left Lampedusa this morning on the ferry bound for Porto Empedocle. They included 43 minors who will be transferred to several reception communities in the Agrigento and Ragusa areas, as their expulsion is not permitted. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Che Guevara: First He Took Havana, Now He’s Conquered Hollywood

“Che lives!” we of the great unwashed cried in the Sixties, and, more than 40 years after his death, it seems only right that he remains insistently among us — as an idea, a global brand, and, in these times of capitalism’s crisis, a useful provocation.

His old pal, Fidel Castro, is still in business in Cuba, new books continue to feed the Guevara legend, and now, lumbering onto the pop-cultural battlefield like some huge, agitprop-lobbing trench mortar, comes Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour-plus, two-part Hollywood biopic Che. The film, starring Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro in the title role, has sharply divided opinion, with grown Frenchmen weeping in the aisles during its first outing at Cannes, while outraged Cuban exiles hurled bottles of habanero salsa at the screen in Miami. Some critics, bemused by its scale and complexity, have taken to calling it The Importance of Being Ernesto.

What’s hard to dispute is that the moment could hardly be better for a fresh look at what Che stood for. Faith in existing political systems has been shaken and insurrectionary stirrings are again being felt around the world. Might Ernesto Guevara de la Serna Lynch, with his steely attachment to permanent revolution, have been right after all? The film makes great efforts to avoid answering this question…

…Che, in fact, was a dead loss at almost everything he turned his hand to; an inept militarily strategist, a duplicitous comrade, an idle and vicious public servant, a faithless husband and a neglectful father. We know all this because, in his wearyingly bureaucratic way, he kept immensely detailed notes of everything he did. “Myths can tell you as much about an era as truth,” says Alvaro Vargas Llosa, a prominent analyst of South American affairs and author of The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty. “So it is that thanks to Che’s own record that we know exactly how deluded so many of our contemporaries are about so much that he did.” …

…For several months Che installed himself as governor of the La Cabana prison, where political opponents were held, and hundreds, possibly thousands, were executed on his orders. He treated homosexuals and the professional classes with particular contempt, but was broadly happy to dispose of anyone who could be considered an enemy of the revolution. He served, with comic uselessness, as Minister of Industry, ordering, as an early initiative, the replacement of American glue by a Soviet-made substitute, which resulted in the collapse of the previously thriving Cuban shoe industry.

In 1966, having clashed with Castro, whom he concluded wasn’t Marxist enough, Guevara took himself off to Bolivia with 50 volunteers, intending to spark a new revolution. In finest Che fashion, he launched the mission at the start of the rainy season, condemning his men to months of nightmarishly wet conditions and attacks by malarial mosquitoes. The guerrillas may have been loyal to the cause, but they weren’t to each other, and soon the whole party — ill-led, hungry and largely spurned by the masses they had come to liberate — was at war with itself.

On October 8, 1967, Che was captured by government forces and executed the next day on the orders of Bolivia’s military ruler General René Barrientos. In death, Che’s stardom could only grow, and it has continued ever since to shed a golden light over the miseries and cruelties of the Cuban revolution. Perhaps predictably, Soderbergh’s epic has been well received in Havana. The tourist dollars it is likely to generate will be most welcome, and it has long been understood there that the world cares less about Che’s failings than that he looks good on a T-shirt.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Firefighters Ordered Into ‘Gay’ Parade Back in Court

4 told to appear on pro-homosexual event or face discipline

Editor’s Note: WARNING — Some content in this article is graphic.

Four San Diego firefighters who say they suffered sexual harassment when they were ordered by the city to participate in the obscenity-laden “gay” pride parade in 2007 are going to trial for a second time, and their attorney says this time he’ll be seeking to introduce photographic evidence of the illegal public sex at the parade.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Voted for Prop 8? You’re Fired

Same-sex marriage activists target businesses, employees

Protests following the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, made news headlines, but the Pacific Justice Institute reports a growing number of cases where those opposed to the ballot measure have taken out their anger more quietly: by harassing — and even firing — employees who voted for it.

[…]

“Californians have been shocked by the aggressiveness of radical homosexual activists who have ousted several individuals from their jobs and livelihoods based solely on their support for traditional marriage,” states Brad Dacus, president of PJI, on the group’s website. “These tactics of fear and intimidation in retaliation for supporting a lawful ballot measure are completely unacceptable.”

[…]

Kevin Snider, chief counsel for PJI, told WND of a worker at a financial company who was asked before the November election how he would vote on the issue of homosexual marriage. The employee gave an evasive answer. Following the election, the employee was asked repeatedly how he voted.

When it was learned the employee had voted in favor of Proposition 8, he was written up for discrimination, Snider reports, and fired within a couple of days.

[…]

“I think there’s certain types of jobs where there’s more hostility than other places,” Snider told WND. “I’ve had several college professors report harassment by their colleagues.”

In one instance, Snider said, a professor took copies of nasty emails from his colleagues over his support of Prop. 8 to the lawyers in the college’s human resources department. The professor alleged the emails clearly constituted hate speech, but his appeal was ignored.

Snider also told WND of Proposition 8 supporters who have suffered vandalism, physical violence and even attacks against family pets.

One report included a University of California student whose car was vandalized and who was beaten over her support of Prop. 8.

“It’s inappropriate behavior, and really criminal behavior,” Snider advised, “to do this sort of thing.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Why is ‘Sexual Identity’ Any of the Government’s Business?

Pensioners living at the home in Brighton are supposed to be questioned regularly about their sexual orientation under the council’s “fair access and diversity” policies.

But the charity running the home has declined to do so, and nor will it use images of elderly homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people in its leaflets. As a consequence, the council has accused the charity of “institutional discrimination” and withdrawn its £13,000 grant, no doubt in the spirit of Christmas.

A spokesman said the charity had made “limited progress” in ensuring the home was “accessible” to homosexuals. But this a Christian organisation and the residents are also Christians. It is their faith that defines them, not their sexuality. Some have been missionaries or in a ministry and they chose the scheme — part of the Pilgrim Homes network — because of its Christian ethos.

Since the home has never asked impertinent and intrusive questions about sexuality how is it possible to know how many homosexuals have actually stayed there in order to show discrimination; and why should anyone care? As Phil Wainwright of Pilgrim Homes said: “We have every reason to believe that we have given places to gay Christians, and no questions were ever asked.”

So who is being discriminatory here: the home against homosexuals or the council against Christians? Would a Muslim charity have been treated in the same way? Can you imagine one being required to ask the same questions? Well, if it is providing services, like care for the elderly, it might well be because that is what the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 say should happen. Although the questions do not have to be answered, an unwillingness to do so could be construed, as it was in Brighton, as a sign of hostility to homosexuals, rather than simply of indifference.

It is only 40 years since homosexuality was made legal and overt discrimination of the sort depicted in The Naked Civil Servant remained rife for many years after. But that can hardly be said to apply any longer when so many gay people are now part of our national life and accepted as such. Most of us, naively, thought that a tolerant and civilised attitude had been reached when it simply did not matter any more. However, to be confronted with a questionnaire asking about what are, for many people — especially older generations — private matters is outrageous.

This issue goes far beyond the over-zealous application of the law by a single council which has the highest proportion of homosexual residents in the country. From next Monday, the Office for National Statistics will routinely ask people about their “sexual identity” in every household survey it conducts. There had been a plan to include a question about sexuality in the 2011 census, but this was dropped because officials recognised what a fearful row there would be. Instead, ONS surveys will include the question “to allow for more accurate baseline estimates, of the size and characteristics of the lesbian, gay and bisexual population in the UK”.

Karen Dunnell, the National Statistician, said: “ONS puts great emphasis on maintaining confidentiality of data. In this case, special show cards are used to ensure that even someone in the same room as the respondent at the time of the interview cannot know how they have answered.”

That may be so, but why on earth should any of this be necessary? According to the ONS it is a requirement of the Equality Act in order that public policy and money can be properly targeted on needy groups. Yet we discover from the Brighton example that the opposite is true: it is so that funding can be withheld from organisations that do not subscribe to the intrusive demands of a madcap law.

This development is of a piece with all the other attempts to gather more and more information about the population. Gay rights groups have long battled to get a sexual orientation question included on national surveys; but they should be careful what they wish for. The time may come when information like this is used against them, just as refusing to take part is now being used against a Christian charity. Even if the law expects those providing services to produce evidence that they are not discriminating against homosexuals, why should the rest of us be asked to declare our sexuality?

When the ONS survey question is introduced next week, people will be asked to choose from the categories “Heterosexual/straight”, “Gay/Lesbian”, “Bisexual” and “Other”, although they will also be allowed to decline to answer. The ONS said: “The category ‘other’ has been included (because) a very small group of people find that the answer categories provided do not describe themselves and that they would prefer to use another term.” Well, there is a much larger group of people who would like the opportunity to give one further answer. It is this: Mind your own business.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

General

Natural Disasters ‘Killed Over 220,000’ in ‘08

German insurer claims man-made global warming major factor

Natural disasters killed over 220,000 people in 2008, making it one of the most devastating years on record and underlining the need for a global climate deal, the world’s number two reinsurer said Monday.

Although the number of natural disasters was lower than in 2007, the catastrophes that occurred proved to be more destructive in terms of the number of victims and the financial cost of the damage caused, Germany-based Munich Re said in its annual assessment.

“This continues the long-term trend we have been observing. Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes,” Munich Re board member Torsten Jeworrek said.

[…]

The world needed “effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions, so that climate change is curbed and future generations do not have to live with weather scenarios that are difficult to control,” board member Jeworrek said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

1 comments:

Culturist John said...

Hey Dymphna, all,

Please watch my video and read about my coverage of the Hamas rally in New York City.

Its at

http://culturismnews.blogspot.com/

Thanks! Culturist John